KALISPELL – David Joseph Lenio, who allegedly threatened on social media to kill local schoolchildren and Jewish leaders, will not face charges related to the threats if he steers clear of trouble for the next two years.
His public defender, Brent Getty, filed a deferred prosecution agreement Friday that would lead to a felony charge of intimidation being dropped if Lenio breaks no laws in that time.
Flathead County Attorney Ed Corrigan signed off on the agreement.
The man who uncovered the alleged threats, alerted law enforcement and flew to Montana to encourage the Flathead County Attorney’s Office to pursue felony charges, was disappointed with the news.
“The state of Montana is re-arming a man who threatened to massacre school kids and religious leaders,” said Jonathan Hutson of Maryland, a former spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Hutson joined local Jewish leaders and members of a human rights group in Kalispell in November to publicly encourage Corrigan not to enter into a potential plea agreement with Lenio that might remove the felony charge. They said they wanted a felony conviction that would keep Lenio from ever legally owning a gun again.
But Getty said Lenio’s alleged tweets about wanting to “shoot up a school” or put “two in the head” of a rabbi or Jewish leader were never directed at anyone in particular.
“The facts that the state outlined did not support a charge of intimidation,” Getty said. “Intimidation is a very specific crime. You have to coerce another person into doing something, or not doing something. What keeps getting lost in the description of threats and tweets is that intimidation requires a very specific intent of coercing someone to do something.”
A second felony charge against Lenio, for criminal defamation, was dismissed earlier after Getty argued the law was unconstitutionally broad.
Lenio had lived in Kalispell, where he was employed as a restaurant cook, for just a few weeks when he got in a Twitter duel with Hutson just over a year ago.
Lenio responded after Hutson tweeted a link to a New York Times story about deadly attacks at a free-speech event and synagogue in Denmark, allegedly with tweets of his own filled with anti-Semitic images. When Hutson started digging into Lenio postings, he discovered “mounds of anti-Semitic content,” followed by “dozens of threats to execute grade-school kids.”
Hutson also came to believe Lenio was from Michigan, which was true, and might be living in Oregon, which was not. He alerted the FBI in Portland, Oregon.
Getty says the fact that the alleged tweets were “reported to a state 700 miles away, and they had to spend a day figuring out” where Lenio actually was, supports his position that no one specific was being targeted.
Lenio, 28 at the time, was arrested last February after a day of snowboarding on Whitefish Mountain.
He was originally held on $500,000 bail. In late July, District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht released Lenio on his own recognizance, and into the custody of his parents, who live in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
In November, a blogger for the Southern Poverty Law Center, Bill Morlin, accused Lenio of violating the conditions of his release 348 times by re-tweeting messages from other people.
With the deferred prosecution agreement, his court case is closed and there are no restrictions on Lenio's liberties, as long as he remains a law-abiding citizen for two years.
“The criminal justice system showed a preferential pattern of behavior from start to finish,” Hutson said Friday.
He said the FBI failed to read Lenio his Miranda rights before taping an interview with him, and that Ulbricht had “let Lenio go home to his wealthy white banker-dad, with no bail, no psychological evaluation and no objection from the prosecution."
“Lenio violated his release conditions 348 times but was not held accountable, even though three dozen other people in Flathead County were arrested for violations of their release conditions," Hutson continued. "I doubt that a Native American or Muslim would receive the same kid-glove treatment after threatening to massacre more kids than the 20 who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.”
Corrigan was not in the office late Friday afternoon, and was unavailable for comment.
Attempts to reach Rabbi Francine Green Roston, who had pushed for putting Lenio on trial, were also unsuccessful.