This article has been updated to include comments from the attorney representing School Board member Beth Barts.
The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, after a roughly four-month investigation, determined that social media posts in a private Facebook group, and the creation of a “hit list,” do not constitute criminal action, according to an executive summary shared on Twitter Saturday.
The investigative team explored potential charges including using a person’s identity with intent to coerce, intimidate or harass, harassment by computer, slander and libel, as well as racketeering in a case that drew widespread attention.
Major Robert N. Miller, division commander for the LCSO Criminal Investigations Division, said in his summary that the investigation was conducted with legal insight from federal and state attorneys.
“Based on these responses and a thorough investigation which included an analysis of social media accounts derived from state authorized search warrants; subject interviews; and consultation with state and federal attorneys the investigative team determined that any relevant Virginia Criminal Code Sections … if applicable, constituted misdemeanor violations,” the summary reads.
Last March, the office was notified about complaints that alleged posts in the Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County (ARPLC) Facebook group were evidence of criminal activity intended to infringe upon First Amendment rights, and violated certain laws surrounding of stalking, harassment and racketeering.
The summary also states that another report claimed that the ARLPC was creating a “hit list” that included a compilation of names, addresses and occupations of people opposed to the ideologies of the social media group.
Multiple search warrants were obtained to identify the participants of a Facebook messaging group as well as from the Facebook account of an unidentified person and the ARPLC group page, according to the summary.
Miller said the sheriff’s office is not pursuing criminal charges, but individuals interviewed during the investigation were notified of their option to pursue misdemeanor criminal charges or other civil remedies if they choose to.
Miller said the Federal Bureau of Investigations conducted a parallel investigation regarding similar complaints, but said the FBI does not intend to pursue the investigation criminally based on the facts known to their team in combination with the information known to the sheriff’s office.
Fight For Schools, a non-partisan political action committee focused on electing “common sense candidates that commit to policies that support equal opportunity, tolerance, meritocracy and achievement,” said that School Board member Beth Barts (Leesburg District) misrepresented to investigators her activity in the group, according to a message to supporters.
Additionally, the group claimed that she urged members of the group to silence an outspoken member of the community who was exercising his First Amendment rights to criticize Loudoun County Public Schools; and she had “zero remorse” that, in response to her post, the group went after dozens of other parents and caused “massive strife” in the community, and which continues to this day.
Fight for Schools has continuously accused LCPS of “indoctrinating” students with ideas based in critical race theory and led a recall effort of six of the nine board’s members including Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District), Vice Chairwoman Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District), Denise Corbo (At-Large), Leslee King (Broad Run District), Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge District) and Barts.
Critical race theory is defined as the understanding that race is “socially constructed and socially significant,” and that “racism is a normal feature of society and embedded within systems and institutions,” according to the American Bar Association.
LCPS has repeatedly denied the allegations that it has adopted critical race theory.
The recall effort began in March after Fight for Schools found the six board members joined the private Facebook group.
Charlie King, attorney representing Barts, said the results of the investigation has created a problem for the recall.
“After a thorough investigation by the FBI and the Sheriff’s Office, the cops found nothing to prosecute. The Sheriff’s Office report is a crushing setback for the so-called recall campaign,” King said an email to the Times-Mirror.
“The report highlights how overblown this incident has become. On one day, a few people made comments they should not have. Nobody ever acted on any of the bad suggestions, end of story,” he said.
“Beth Barts was never under investigation and voluntarily met with a Detective,” King said.
He said his client is a primary target for the recall campaign and that she “makes no apology for her strong support of equity initiatives in the Loudoun County Public Schools.”As of Monday afternoon, a spokesperson from the sheriff’s office said the office is unaware of any charges that have been filed through the magistrate.
“This was a high profile case that raised numerous questions and concerns from the community, and garnered national attention,” Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) said in an email to the Times-Mirror.
“In an effort to remain transparent and help the community understand the circumstances and findings of the case, we released the executive summary directly to the public we serve,” Chapman said.
The Virginia Project, a political action committee, filed a lawsuit in May against the moderator of the Facebook group for remarks that they say have injured and damaged the project’s reputation, the Times-Mirror reported in June.
The lawsuit, filed in Loudoun County Circuit Court, seeks $500,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from Jaime Ann Neidig-Wheaton.
Philip Bradfield, an attorney representing the political action committee, said his client is demanding a trial by jury for her false factual statements and allegations made during a public livestream on March 18.
The Virginia Project claimed that during a March 18 livestream with host Atiba Madyun, Neidig-Wheaton said “TVP was ‘spurring’ unnamed people to threaten her, other members of the ARPLC and their children.”
TVP said in the complaint that the livestream followed an online Facebook meeting on March 12 in which ARPLC members sought to identify and list names, addresses, employers of parents who opposed critical race theory in Loudoun County Public Schools.
Additionally, TVP claims that the Facebook group publicly sought to expose parents who are opposed to CRT, infiltrate organizations such as TVP and Parents Against Critical Theory (PACT) who opposed CRT, and recruit computer hackers to hack into and disable websites of anti-CRT organizations.
The “Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County” group is no longer publicly available on Facebook.
Bradfield said the Sheriff’s Office investigation was to determine whether there was sufficient evidence to support felony criminal charges against some members of the Facebook group.
“As the Loudoun County Sheriff correctly points out in his recent social media posts, Loudoun County Public Schools parents and other individuals identified and targeted by the above referenced Facebook group still have the option to file misdemeanor criminal charges against the culpable Facebook group members and still have the legal right to pursue any and all civil causes of action which arise from the Facebook group members’ improper conduct,” Bradfield said in an email to the Times-Mirror.
“All the above, however, has nothing to do with and does not affect The Virginia Project’s pending defamation lawsuit against one of the founders of ‘Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County,’ Mrs. Jaime Neidig-Wheaton,” he said.
Reached Sunday evening, Wheaton’s attorney did not offer comment.
John Battison contributed to this report.