Saturday, June 10, 2023
HomeUS NewsLoudoun County Father Arrested at 2021 School Board Meeting Reacts to Acquittal

Loudoun County Father Arrested at 2021 School Board Meeting Reacts to Acquittal

Jon Tigges, the Loudoun County father arrested at a heated school board meeting in June 2021, was found not guilty of trespassing. On Jan. 4, a judge at the Loudoun County Circuit Court ruled so, overturning a guilty determination by a lower court.

Tigges was arrested and charged with trespassing for refusing to leave the school board meeting room after the then-superintendent declared the public gathering an unlawful assembly. Around 250 people were due to speak during public comment that day, but the board cut off the session earlier, citing a disruptive crowd.

“It’s completely a free-speech victory,” Tigges told The Epoch Times after his acquittal. “This is a public meeting. You can’t just kick us out when you don’t want to hear what we have to say.”

Then-Superintendent Scott Ziegler later admitted that he didn’t have the authority to declare the assembly unlawful.

“I had no idea it would take 18 months to prove” innocence, Tigges said. “To me, it was just a no-brainer from the get-go.”

Tigges’s attorney Chris Kachouroff summarized the ruling: “The judge acquitted Jon Tigges, finding that he had a good faith belief that he was exercising his First Amendment rights. This alone was enough for the acquittal.

“However, The judge further remarked that the prosecution failed to present any evidence that the ex-Superintendent had the authority to clear members of the public from the meeting room during the recess.”

Tigges’s tweet announcing the not guilty reached over 200,000 views in just a few hours. He interpreted the attention as people taking his acquittal as positive news affirming that the justice system might still work.

But the Virginia man was still wary. “We can deny it all we want, but we are living in a very, very dark world right now,” he said.

school board meeting
A crowd is seen at a Loudoun County School Board meeting in Ashburn, Va., on June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

‘Crushing Dissent’

To Tigges, his arrest was one indicator out of many showing the Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) system’s suppression of free speech.

Ralph Polachek, a Tigges supporter and a business attorney who attended both days of the trial as a spectator, said that Judge Douglas Fleming was “open, kind, and willing to listen” to both sides.

The school board and administrators “were caught red-handed, trying to weaponize their authority against parents who have every right to speak out, inquire, learn about, and control the education of their own children,” Polachek told The Epoch Times.

“Jon only wanted to appear and speak to that. And there was no way from the day they hauled him out into the parking lot in handcuffs that he was going to stand for being called a criminal for doing that,” he added.

The meeting on June 22, 2021, during which Tigges was arrested, occurred during the height of parents’ opposition to the school board’s actions and policies.

Three months earlier, parents who wanted schools to reopen and who opposed critical race theory—a quasi-Marxist framework that views the United States as systemically racist—discovered that they were labeled “anti-racist” by members of a private Facebook group that included a few school board members.

Discussion in the group, which has since closed down, included calls for compiling a target list and doxxing these parents and their children.

Meanwhile, the school board was also on track to pass a controversial policy allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their self-identified gender rather than biological sex.

A campaign called for donations on—a fundraising platform for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations—to bus supporters to a rally outside the June school board meeting to “stand up against hate and intolerance in our school system.” Eventually, the out-of-town buses didn’t appear, and the only rally outside of the school administration building was that of parents protesting the school board’s policies.

critical race theory protest
Opponents of the academic doctrine known as critical race theory protest outside of the Loudoun County School Board headquarters in Ashburn, Va., on June 22, 2021. (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

At the June 22 meeting, 15 out of the first 20 speakers supported the transgender policy. After that, most of the speakers were against the policy until the then-school board chairwoman Brenda Sheridan moved to cancel public comment during the speech of the 50th speaker.

When public comment commenced, Sheridan asked the audience to refrain from clapping citing policy 2520 (pdf), which doesn’t prohibit applause. When an early speaker addressed the audience, saying, “instead of focusing on the hate that seems to be dripping off the followers of Jesus in their room, in this room, and from their kids in our schools, I want to take the time,” the crowd cut her off with boos and jeers. Sheridan warned the audience to refrain from disrupting the commenter and allowed the speaker to continue.

When former state Sen. Richard Black, the 50th speaker, condemned the school board for having an enemies list and allegedly intimidating and punishing people who objected to their policies, the audience stood up, cheered, and applauded. At this, the school board quickly moved to end public comment.

The school board “shut it down as fast and hard as they [could]. It was obvious what their intent was: let their people speak and then find an excuse to kill it. And that’s what they did,” recalled Tigges.

“And then after that, when people continue[d] to share their redress of grievances as guaranteed under the Constitution, they shut down even a public meeting by calling it ‘unlawful assembly,’” he added.

“These people were intent on crushing dissent.”

In response to these allegations, LCPS’ Communications & Community Engagement Office said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times: “LCPS remains dedicated to helping every student reach their full potential and achieve their dreams while empowering them to make meaningful contributions to the world. We do this by partnering with parents, families, and our community to guide and support as we are all deeply invested in the success of students and their families.

“We welcome parent, family, and community involvement in that process in a productive and organized manner.”

scott ziegler
Loudoun County Superintendent Scott Ziegler during a school board meeting in Ashburg, Va., on June 22, 2021. (LCPS/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Ziegler was indicted last month by a special grand jury investigation. The indictment was made public on Dec. 12. Days prior, the school board fired the superintendent without cause. Grand jurors indicted him on three counts, including false publication, according to copies of the indictments obtained by The Epoch Times.

That count stemmed from Ziegler “knowingly” transmitting to media outlets on or about June 22, 2021, a “false and untrue statement.” The statement was not identified in the indictment document.

One false statement, however, is known to the public. At the June 22 meeting, despite being notified a month ago of the occurrence of a sexual assault in a school bathroom, Ziegler said, “To my knowledge, we don’t have any record of assaults occurring in our restrooms,” adding later that “the predator transgender student or person simply does not exist.” The comment was made in response to parents’ concerns that the transgender policy would lead to an increase in assaults in school bathrooms.

On Jan. 5, Ziegler filed motions to dismiss the criminal indictments, arguing that Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin had no authority to issue the executive order that authorized the Attorney General’s investigation.

Ziegler didn’t testify during Tigges’s appeal. However, he spoke during a September hearing at a lower court, comparing parents’ protests on June 22, 2021, to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, emphasizing that the several hundred parents who organized their own public comment during the recess were a threat to safety.

The Epoch Times has contacted Ziegler’s attorney for comment.

Epoch Times Photo
Hundreds rallied to protest against Loudoun County Public Schools adopting the Virginia Department of Education’s 2021 transgender student model policies outside the Loudoun County Public Schools administration building in Ashburn, Va., on Sept. 28, 2021. (Terri Wu/The Epoch Times)

‘A Dark World’

“Despite this victory, I have serious concerns about where we are as a country. We’ve been subverted by a darkness that is spilling out in rot at all levels and in both political parties,” Tigges said in a series of tweets announcing his acquittal.

Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, a Democrat, personally prosecuted the trespass case, a move that Kachouroff described as “highly unusual.”

“I’ve been practicing for 22 years. There are two times I can remember a Commonwealth’s Attorney personally prosecuting any case, and both were high-profile murder trials,” Kachouroff told The Epoch Times. “I cannot conceive of a Commonwealth’s attorney ever prosecuting a misdemeanor. They have the power, but that’s like the President screwing in the light bulbs in the White House. Can she do it? Sure, but why?”

Tigges viewed Biberaj as a part of the local progressive machine that targets conservatives like him.

When reached by The Epoch Times, Biberaj’s office did not respond to these allegations. The office said it relies on law enforcement to make charging decisions.

“When charges are filed and referred to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, we assess the evidence and present it to the court. We may be disappointed at the decision, but we respect the decision and thank the court for its time and consideration of this matter,” the office said in an emailed statement to The Epoch Times.

The lack of support from Loudoun County Sheriff Michael Chapman, a Republican, also disheartened Tigges. To Tigges, the arrest was wrong, and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) could use more training for deputies to discern the lawfulness of a request.

Kachouroff echoed his client’s sentiment, pointing to a subpoena to Chapman issued during Tigges’s appeal. “Loudoun Sheriff Mike Chapman, who although had sworn an oath to defend the First Amendment, chose to ignore a lawfully issued subpoena to come to court,” the lawyer said.

“He could have taken the opportunity in court to support Jon and to speak out in favor of the First Amendment Rights of Loudoun’s parents. I am sad to say that he chose to remain in his office, silent,” he added.

In response, Chapman wrote in an email to The Epoch Times: “As evidenced by the earlier conviction of John Tigges for trespass, LCSO deputies acted appropriately in making that arrest. I believe in the criminal justice system and respect the decision of the judge.”

Kachouroff disagreed. “Chapman knows the ‘earlier conviction’ was wiped out by the appeal. The appeal is ‘de novo’ or starting from scratch.”

Epoch Times Photo
Jon Tigges at Zion Springs, his wedding and bed & breakfast venue, in Hamilton, Va. (Caleb Spencer for The Epoch Times)

‘Responding Faithfully’

Tigges said he wanted to give up many times during the 18-month fight.

But “responding faithfully” was the key to sustaining his perseverance. “Learn to trust the Lord and His providence, and that’s where there was a real peace,” he said. He said that during the recent pandemic, he realized that instead of hoping to change others, he should focus on making his choices right.

“I think the more fundamental issue isn’t about bad people doing bad things; that’s what they’re going to do. So for me, the bigger issue is what a Christian is going to do,” he said.

Tigges added: “I really think that people value their comfort over having convictions. And if they have the convictions, they have a responsibility to live them out. And if they’re not willing to live them out, if they’re going to be silent, want to be liked, and not make any sacrifices, then they shouldn’t be surprised with what they see around them.”

Although it’s not easy, instead of being desperate or angry, people with faith can amazingly find peace and encouragement in a dark world, according to Tigges.

The main reason Tigges was at that school board meeting was to support other members of the community since he doesn’t have a kid in LCPS.

“Our own relationships with our families and our friends are the foundation by which everything else happens. If we have healthy relationships, and we’re investing deeply in our family and our friends, we’re gonna have a healthy community,” he said.

“If you have a healthy community, out of that springs healthy people to engage as an army against evil instead of a handful of people trying to take it on and being ultimately overwhelmed by it.”

Terri Wu

Terri Wu is a Washington-based freelance reporter for The Epoch Times covering education and China-related issues. Send tips to

Source link


Most Popular

Recent Comments