More legal battles may be brewing in school 2-by-4 incident

By Joe Beck

The legal battle between Christopher Garrit Johnson and Shenandoah County Public Schools may not have ended this week when a circuit court judge scrapped a disorderly conduct charge against Johnson.

Johnson’s attorney, David Silek, said Thursday he is considering lawsuits against the school system and the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office stemming from Johnson’s arrest Dec. 19, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Strasburg.

Sheriff’s deputies arrested Johnson after he appeared inside the school carrying a 2-by-4 board with the words “high powered rifle” on both sides. Days earlier, a man with a rifle had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and fatally shot 26 students and educators.

Silek and co-counsel Carlos Flores LaBoy argued successfully that Johnson had broken no laws and was exercising his right to free expression at the time of his arrest.

Silek said it is now up to Johnson to decide whether to sue the school system or Sheriff’s Office before the statute of limitations expires in mid-December.

“My client is free and quite happy,” Silek said Johnson. “Now the civil liability phase starts.”

Silek cited a letter circulated by a school official against his client as one possible target for a lawsuit.

Silek said the letter does not specifically identify Johnson but “only one person was charged in Shenandoah County, and everybody knows him.”

Jeremy Raley, superintendent of Shenandoah County Public Schools, said he was not with the school system at the time of Johnson’s arrest and could not comment on it without knowing more details.

“I do know the principal and staff in that building,” Raley said of Sandy Hook Elementary School, adding that he was appreciative “of the work they do.”

Silek also accused the Sheriff’s Office of violating Johnson’s civil rights by forcing him to sleep on the floor of the jail in handcuffs and without blankets or pillows in the days after his arrest.

The Sheriff’s Office also made Johnson submit to a mental health evaluation “and shipped him to a mental hospital,” Silek said, adding, “That’s not how you treat someone with a mental issue. That only worsens it.”

No one at the Sheriff’s Office was available to speak about Silek’s accusations Thursday afternoon and messages were not returned.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com