Human rights activists and religious leaders are concerned that the Kalispell man who allegedly threatened to shoot up a school and synagogue on Twitter could get his guns back as attorneys inch closer to a plea deal.
Last week, David Lenio’s attorney filed a motion to continue the jury trial, which was scheduled to begin Nov. 9. The motion suggested that a plea deal was imminent, prompting speculation that the felony intimidation charge against Lenio could be reduced to a misdemeanor charge or a deferred prosecution.
“Imagine David Lenio reloaded, courtesy of the State of Montana,” said Jonathan Hutson, a Maryland media consultant who first reported Lenio’s threatening messages on Twitter in February.
On Nov. 9, Hutson, members of the local human rights group Love Lives Here and the Jewish community gathered at the Flathead County Justice Center for a small protest to pressure County Attorney Ed Corrigan to ensure Lenio does not get his guns back in a plea deal. A petition by the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence urging Lenio to be prohibited from purchasing firearms had gained more than 1,000 signatures by Monday morning.
The courthouse gathering came nearly a year after Lenio first moved to the Flathead Valley and began posting threatening rants online. In one post he talked about going on a “killing spree” in a school and in others he talked about shooting Jewish leaders.
On Feb. 16, an officer with the Kalispell Police Department contacted Lenio to talk to him about his tweets. Lenio acknowledged that he had sent the messages and that he was “trying to bring attention to certain social issues,” according to court documents. 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, according to authorities. Police obtained a search warrant for 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 Feb. 16 and charged with felony intimidation. The arrest was made in coordination with the Kalispell Police Department, the FBI, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office and the Whitefish Police Department.
Kalispell Police Chief Roger Nasset said the fact that Lenio had moved guns to his house is was what took the threat to the “next level” and led to his arrest.
Lenio spent five months in the Flathead County Detention Center before being released into the custody of his family in Michigan.
Lenio’s trial was set to begin this week, but on Nov. 6 District Court Judge Heidi Ulbricht approved the motion to continue, pushing the trial back to January 19, 2016 if a plea deal is not reached before then.
Rabbi Francine Roston of the Glacier Jewish Community-B’nai Shalom helped organize the Nov. 9 event at the courthouse and said that she and other religious leaders took Lenio’s threats very seriously.
“As one of only two rabbis in this community, when someone says they want to put a bullet in a rabbi’s head that makes me concerned for my own safety,” Francine said. “Lenio’s threat was very potent. When you have guns, hatred and an open platform to spread that hate, then that’s scary.”
Roston said the local Jewish community took Lenio’s threat so seriously that earlier this year, during one of the Jewish high holidays, they hired a security guard to stand outside of the Kalispell synagogue.
Hutson, who played a key role in tipping off police to the threats, said that while Lenio has a right to free speech he does not have a right to make serious threats against innocent people.
“Lenio’s right to free speech must be defended. He has a right to spout unpopular and outrageous ideas,” Hutson said. “But he doesn’t have a right to threaten school kids, Jewish leaders or any of our neighbors.”