Terrorism related charge dropped against second suspect in Virginia Beach prom case

Posted at 9:51 AM, Jul 06, 2018

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Prosecutors dropped a terrorism related charge against 18-year-old Michael Coleman after an incident at a high school prom at the Westin Hotel.

Michael Coleman

Prosecutors announced the decision to nolle-pros the charge during a hearing Friday.

They said it's due to a lack of evidence.

Coleman's defense claim the police department jumped the gun with that charge.

"I'm a little disappointed that the police department brought that charge in the first place," Kristin Paulding said. “I don’t think Michael has any ties to the Bayside community that would want to make him harm anyone at the Bayside Prom or at the school.”

Prosecutors will be moving forward with two concealed weapons charges.

"This a bell that can’t be unsung for Michael. He has been as a school shooter. It was compared to a Las Vegas type situation," Paulding explained.

Coleman's bond was denied and he is set to be back in court in August.

In June the terrorism related charge was also dropped against the second suspect who is a 17-year-old.

Police arrested the teens in early June. They said the two made a threat against the Bayside High School prom. The two were originally charged with conspiracy to commit an act of terrorism.

Police released a statement Friday with more details about their investigation:

"On June 9, 2018, Virginia Beach Police acted on information from the community and took a juvenile into custody at the Westin Hotel in Town Center, in relation to a possible threat to the Bayside High School Prom being held at that location.  An adult co-defendant, Michael Russell Coleman, evaded arrest outside the hotel and fled on foot after discarding a firearm. Coleman was arrested the following day in Norfolk on outstanding firearms related charges in that city as well as charges related to the threat to the prom in Virginia Beach.  Based upon the probable cause, reviewed by a magistrate and a juvenile intake officer, detectives charged Coleman and the juvenile with Virginia §18.2-46.5, Conspiring to Commit a Terrorist Act, along with other firearms related charges.   Based upon the evidence recovered at the Westin Hotel, law enforcement and school officials in Virginia Beach strongly believe police officers prevented a possible tragedy at the Bayside prom.

Since charges were filed against the suspects VBPD detectives have consulted with prosecutors with the Virginia Beach Office of Commonwealth's Attorney, where all current evidence was reviewed.  Though the standard for probable cause for arrest was met, prosecutors feel that at this time, the evidence against Coleman and the juvenile are not sufficient to meet the high burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt) in a criminal trial.  Prosecutors have directed that detectives continue the investigation to gather more evidence to support the conspiracy to commit terrorist acts charge.  As a result, the conspiracy charges against Coleman and the juvenile have been nolle prossed meaning that prosecutors will not bring these charges forward for trial at this time. Prosecutors reserve the right to bring these charges back, should more evidence be located to support the decision to do so.

Coleman and the juvenile remain under investigation by detectives who will continue to work with prosecutors; however, both still face firearms charges related to this event.  The Virginia Beach Police Department feels that the actions taken earlier were appropriate as public safety, especially the safety of high school children in light of recent events, is our highest priority. "