Kalispell Man Denies Threatening Schools, Religious Leaders

David Joseph Lenio appeared in Flathead County District Court Thursday on charges of intimidation

By Justin Franz

The Kalispell man accused of making online threats about shooting up a school and assassinating Jewish religious leaders pleaded not guilty on Thursday.

David Joseph Lenio, 28, was arraigned in Flathead County District Court on March 19 on charges of criminal defamation and intimidation.

Lenio was arrested on Feb. 16 after an alleged Twitter rant threatening school children and Jewish people that caught the attention of Jonathan Hutson, a spokesperson for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington D.C. Shortly after his online tirade, Lenio allegedly moved guns to his house, according to law enforcement authorities. Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset said Lenio posed a “very real threat” because he had moved the weapons to his home.

On Thursday afternoon, Lenio was much more subdued than he was at his initial appearance on Feb. 19, when he yelled “free Palestine” and told people to visit his YouTube page to find the “truth” about the 9/11 attacks and the 2011 shooting of former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. The only time he spoke during his latest court appearance was to ask Judge Heidi J. Ulbricht to clarify his right to a jury trial.

After pleading not guilty to charges of intimidation, Lenio was quietly led out of the courtroom.

He remains in custody at the Flathead County Detention Center on a bail of $500,000.

A jury trial has been scheduled for July.

On Feb. 14, Hutson tweeted a link to a story about a shooting at a synagogue in Copenhagen. An online username that authorities say was Lenio responded and began flooding Hutson’s Twitter feed with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Hutson initially ignored the tweets, but Lenio continued to harass him, even asking the man where his children went to school. Hutson, who previously worked as an investigative journalist, began to research Lenio and found his YouTube page, where Lenio talks about various mass shootings. Because Lenio listed his location as “Cascadia,” Hutson believed he lived in Oregon and called the FBI office in Portland.

Oregon authorities discovered Lenio was living in Kalispell, and on Feb. 15 at 11 p.m., the Kalispell Police Department was informed of Lenio’s activity. Nasset organized a team to investigate the threats in coordination with the FBI.

Nasset said police reached out to Lenio’s father in Michigan, and he told officers that he was worried about his son’s mental state.

On Feb. 16, an officer with the Kalispell Police Department contacted Lenio to talk to him about his tweets. Lenio admitted that he had sent the messages and that he was “trying to bring attention to certain social issues.” He then told the officer that he was glad his tweets were gaining the attention of law enforcement and school officials.

Later that same day, an officer talked to Lenio’s roommate, who said that Lenio had brought rifles and ammunition to their home the night before. Police obtained a search warrant of Lenio’s apartment and found a 9mm semi-automatic rifle and a Russian made bolt-action rifle in his bedroom. They also found numerous rounds of ammunition in Lenio’s bedroom and basement. Later they conducted a search of Lenio’s vehicle and found a .32 caliber semi-automatic pistol and more ammunition. They also discovered marijuana, a pipe and jugs of urine.

Lenio was arrested on Feb. 16 at 4:45 p.m. as he was coming back from snowboarding at Whitefish Mountain Resort. The arrest was made in coordination with the Kalispell Police Department, the FBI, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and the Whitefish Police Department.

Before Lenio was arraigned, Hutson, the Brady Campaign spokesperson, said he was glad that authorities took the online threats seriously.

“Lenio has a right to his wrong headed conspiracy theories and bigoted opinions. But he has no right to threatening to execute Kalispell’s school children and Jewish leaders,” Hutson said. “Anyone in Montana, gun owner or not, can agree we need to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, be they criminals or people who are seriously mentally ill.”

If convicted, Lenio could face up to 20 years in prison and fines up to $50,000.