By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 30 — During a bench trial on Thursday morning in Page County General District Court, Judge Chris Collins lowered the charge against Amelia Ruffner King from an “oral threat” to commit harm against a school official to disorderly conduct.
On Jan. 20, 2022, King addressed the Page County School Board during citizen comment period regarding Governor Glenn Youngkin’s Executive Order #02, which went into effect a few days later and removed a previous mandate for masking in Virginia’s public schools. While the school board agreed and voted, 4-2, to immediately shift from universal masking used throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to a “parent choice” option, King spoke before the vote and insinuated that she would stand for nothing less.
“No mask mandates. My children will not come to school on Monday with a mask on, alright. That’s not happening. And I will bring every single gun loaded and ready,” King continued as she was cut-off a second time by the chairman for exceeding the three-minute time limit during citizen comment period.
Then as she left the room, King stated: “I’ll see ya’ll on Monday.”
Just over 24 hours after making those statements, King, 42, was arrested by Luray police officers and charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor under 18.2-60 of the Virginia State Code for “threats of death or bodily injury to a person or member of his family; threats to commit serious bodily harm to persons on school property.” More specifically, King was charged under Subsection B of that code which includes “any person who orally makes a threat to any employee of any elementary, middle or secondary school, while on a school bus, on school property or at a school-sponsored activity, to kill or do bodily injury to such person…”
On Thursday, Judge Collins ruled that the incident did not rise to the level of “threat” intended under this legislation, but the comments did meet the merits of disorderly conduct and prompted school officials to issue a public statement and strengthen security for several days.
“I find that the behavior was disturbing,” Judge Collins stated. “I have taken into consideration that you immediately apologized, but the court must take into consideration that the comments at the time were wholly inappropriate.”
On Jan. 21, 2022, Page County Public Schools issued the following statement:
“Last night at our School Board meeting during the Citizen Comment period there were comments made that referenced weapons and were perceived by many to be threatening in nature. Page County Public Schools does not take these kind of statements lightly. Not only do comments such as these go against everything that we wish to model for our students, they go against the very nature of how we as a community should interact with each other. Violence or threats are never acceptable or appropriate. This kind of behavior is not tolerated from our students, faculty, staff, nor will it be tolerated by parents or guests of our school division.”
Defense attorney Gene Hart argued that his client was charged under a “poorly written statute” and due to “poorly chosen words.” He stated that King posed “no actual threat” and her words had “no intent” behind them. Hart pointed to the fact that she immediately tried to apologize and explain.
Soon after her comments on Jan. 20, King emailed both the Page County School Board and the Page County Sheriff’s Office to “apologize for the way I phrased the statement.” Dr. Amy Painter, District 3 school board representative, read a message to the school board that she received from King during the meeting.
“I in no way want to imply ‘all guns loaded’ as in actual firearms, but rather all resources I can muster to make sure my kids get to attend school without masks. My sincere apologies for my poor choice in words,” read Dr. Painter before continuing to a second message she received from King that evening. “I’m absolutely mortified. I would never do such a thing. I was only speaking figuratively, as in alerting the media and creating a social media stir.”
This morning Judge Collins sentenced King to one year of probation, which was deferred for one year.
“That gives us one more year to make sure we have no further incidents,” the judge said.
He also ordered King to complete 20 hours of community service before a review date in court on Dec. 29, and pay court costs of $91. She must then maintain good behavior and show”no further acts of aggression toward the school board” before returning to General District Court for a final review on June 29, 2023.
“There needs to be a few hoops to jump through to make sure this inappropriate behavior stops,” Judge Collins said, “but I also want to treat her the same as any other person who has said something in a moment of passion that they wished they hadn’t said.”
Judge Collins is allowing the Page County School Board to decide if King can return freely to school property. As the parent of two students currently in the school division, King had permission to come on school grounds, if the visit was of an academic nature and prior notification was given.
During Thursday’s trial, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Armanda Clymer showed the video clip from the Jan. 20 meeting that has now been viewed and shared thousands of times on social media. In her defense, both King and her attorney claimed that notice of the meeting was only sent out “about eight hours before the meeting” and she did not have time to prepare her statements. She has spoken in previous meetings and has previously been removed after refusing to stop speaking after the three-minute time limit had expired.
At the onset of her comments on Jan. 20, King admitted that “when I go off the cuff I get really passionate” and “I’m not always able to say what I want to say in the appropriate way.”
After hearing testimony from and cross examining Dr. Antonia Fox, superintendent of Page County Public Schools, and Detective William A. Smoot of the Luray Police Department, Hart entered a motion to strike the charge based on an argument of “no definable victim” and “no intent” to “threaten to kill or cause bodily injury.”
“From their faces…that’s how they took it to begin with,” Hart said of school board members seen in the video.
“Her own words in the email show that it was a threat, and that’s how it would be construed,” Clymer countered in her argument against the motion to strike. “She did say she was going to show up to the schools with guns.”
Judge Collins agreed that the commonwealth had met their burden to sustain the charges and ruled against the motion to strike. Hart then called King as a witness so she could explain what happened during that January meeting.
“I immediately realized that what I said could be taken out of context because I was cut off [before I could explain],” King said. “I let them know I had no intentions of harming anyone…As I was walking out, I was so fearful that what I said was going to be taken out of context…but I couldn’t go back …I didn’t want to get in trouble.”
Hart asked King what she would have said, if given more time at the podium.
“It was a metaphor. I regret it. I never made that statement with any other intention than to call the newspaper and get on social media…to call attention to the situation, if they were not going to uphold that Executive Order of the Governor,” King said. “Parent choice…as Govenor Youngkin suggested.”
Hart then focused on King’s regret for her words, and asked what it’s been like as an active parent to have been limited in her involvement in school activities over the past five months.
“I’m mortified. So much trouble has been caused by this, and I’m so sorry for every bit of it,” King told the court as tears began to run down her face. “There is no job more important to me than being a mother. It’s been excruciating…I haven’t been able to volunteer at the concession stand or go to soccer games…”
In her cross examination, Clymer asked King if she was upset about the late notice for the Jan. 20 meeting.
“I was quite put off,” King said.
“Do you understand why people would be upset about a comment like that?” Clymer asked.
“I quickly realized that,” King responded.
“Would you be upset if someone said that about a school your child was in?” Clymer asked.
“Yes, it would raise my eyebrow,” King replied. “I didn’t say I was bringing guns to any location. It was a terribly wrong metaphor to use. I was talking about when my kids came to school [that] Monday, when they didn’t wear masks, as their parents instructed them, then I would be there to get my kids.”
Each side made their closing arguments prior to a brief recess for the judge to deliberate on his decision. The prosecution noted that while King is recanting her words now, the video was proof of what, when and where she made comments that many took very seriously. The defense recounted its arguments of no intent and no real threat.
“In the context of free speech, this is a lesson to us all, including Mrs. King, to tone it down and watch our words,” Hart said.
After a brief 10-minute recess, Judge Collins rendered his decision to reduce the charge and impose probation and community service as a means of making the defendant consider her actions.
“I find that the behavior was disturbing,” the judge said. “We can not talk like that in front of a school board.”