A Coventry Township woman shook her head sadly Friday afternoon after hearing that a Barberton jury had convicted her of inducing panic for false statements she made on Facebook.

Erin Croghan then wiped away tears as Judge David Fish told her he wanted the probation department to investigate her background and for her to undergo a psychological evaluation before he sentences her on the first-degree misdemeanor. The charge carries up to 180 days in jail.

“I would like to get a professional opinion of what may have been in your mind,” Fish said. “You were obviously conflicted.”

The jury in Barberton Municipal Court deliberated for about 1½ hours before returning its verdict.

Jeff Laybourne, Croghan’s attorney, said he was disappointed about the jury’s decision and is concerned about the potential implications.

“When you criminalize Facebook posts and speech, I think there’s a risk that we could be on a slippery slope toward more prosecutions like this,” he said.

Croghan, 37, plans to appeal. Her sentencing date hasn’t yet been scheduled.

Prosecutors say Croghan made a post on Facebook Feb. 20, shortly after a mass shooting in Florida, asking whether any other Coventry school district parents had heard about a student being caught with a pellet gun at school. The post caused a panic in the community, with many people reaching out to school officials.

Coventry schools officials say what Croghan posted wasn’t true and that she knew it because they told her. Despite this, they say, Croghan continued to talk about the gun on Facebook and stir up concerns.

The superintendent and several other school officials testified during Croghan’s two-day trial. Assistant Barberton Prosecutor Michelle Banbury showed jurors 60 exhibits featuring Croghan’s Facebook posts and the reactions to them.

“I think Ms. Croghan did a good job of building this case on her own,” Banbury told jurors Friday morning during her closing argument.

Laybourne said people put misinformation and incomplete information on Facebook all the time and use the social media site as a forum to get into heated arguments.

“If we’re going to charge every person who puts misinformation on Facebook, talk about needing a new courthouse,” he said, referring to plans for Barberton to build a new courthouse. “This place will be inundated.”

Laybourne questioned whether the prosecutor proved her case, especially about Croghan causing “serious public inconvenience or alarm.” He pointed out that Coventry Superintendent Lisa Blough didn’t put out a robocall or other mass communication about Croghan’s posts like is done when there is a serious incident that has caused concern in the district.

“You heard there was no robocall, no evacuation, no lockdown,” Laybourne said. “If it had been ‘serious,’ those things would have occurred.”

Banbury reacted angrily to Laybourne’s assertion that this situation wasn’t serious.

“It wasn’t a Twizzler,” she said of Croghan’s false claim. “It was a gun.”

After the verdict, Croghan asked Fish if she can provide him with letters from people who support her before she is sentenced.

Fish said she can and that Coventry school district officials also will be invited to provide their input.

Coventry Superintendent Blough said if Croghan had stopped her posts in the beginning, the case wouldn’t have been necessary. She said people with safety concerns should contact her or another administrator.

“Posting on Facebook is not an effective way to get things resolved,” she said. “This case clearly shows that.''

Banbury was pleased by the jury’s decision.

“I think justice was served and I think she needs treatment,” she said of Croghan.

 

 

Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Facebook: @swarsmithabj.