Prosecution deferred in online threat case

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David Lenio appears in court for his arraignment on March 19, 2015, in Kalispell. (Brenda Ahearn file photo/Daily Inter Lake)

The Flathead County Attorney’s Office has agreed to defer prosecution of a case against a man accused of threatening Kalispell school children and religious leaders in online Twitter rants in 2015.

A deferred prosecution agreement filed on Wednesday calls for the case to be dismissed after two years if David Joseph Lenio, 29, remains “a law-abiding citizen at all times.”

Lenio has agreed that he will “not violate any state, federal or local laws, ordinances, and constitutional amendments.”

He was facing one charge of felony intimidation in Flathead District Court after he allegedly sent out hateful messages on Twitter between December 2014 and February 2015.

Public defender Brent Getty said the case is effectively closed and dismissed, although prosecutors will have two years to revive the case if Lenio breaks the terms of the agreement.

Lenio originally was charged with felony defamation and intimidation after allegedly sending out dozens of messages about gun violence and hate against minorities.

“I bet I could get at least 12 unarmed sitting ducks if I decide to go on a killing spree in a school. Sounds better than being a wage slave,” Lenio is accused of writing on Twitter on Feb. 12, 2015.

Later that day he also allegedly wrote: “What do you think costs more in most U.S. cities? A gun with enough ammunition to kill 100 school kids or the security deposit on an apartment. ... What would I rather do? Be a #wage slave for the rest of my life or tell society f--- you & do your kids a favor by shooting up a #school?”

He also allegedly made references to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting and threatened to shoot Kalispell religious leaders.

Lenio’s comments were spotted by a spokesman for the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence and forwarded first to officials in Linn County, Oregon. Lenio was eventually linked to Kalispell by federal and local authorities.

Lenio was taken into custody in Whitefish on Feb. 16, 2015.

Later that day, law officers talked to Lenio’s roommate, who said Lenio had brought weapons and ammunition to the apartment the day before the arrest. Deputies found a 9mm semi-automatic rifle and Russian-made bolt-action rifle in his bedroom, with ammunition in the bedroom and basement.

A search of Lenio’s vehicle revealed a .32 caliber semi-automatic pistol, more ammunition, marijuana, a pipe and jugs of urine. An analysis by state forensics officials found that one of the guns was not working.

The criminal defamation charge was dismissed in September 2015 by Flathead District Judge Heidi Ulbricht, who ruled that a state statute was too broad and some of Lenio’s remarks were constitutionally protected free speech.

Getty said circumstances of the case and state law also made it difficult to prove the intimidation case.

The fact that authorities in Oregon first handled the case meant it was difficult to establish that anyone in Kalispell was immediately being intimidated by the Tweets, Getty said.

“That makes it really hard to show that someone was intimidated,” Getty said. “I think we’ve made clear from my original motion to dismiss that we didn’t think the state could prove their case if this went to trial.”

Montana does not have a general threat statute, Getty said.

There will be no restrictions on Lenio’s speech or gun rights under the agreement, Getty said.

There is nothing preventing Lenio from moving back to Kalispell, though Getty said Lenio has given no indication that he wants to do so. Lenio has a job in Michigan, Getty said.

He was conditionally released from jail in July 2015 and allowed to return home to his family in Michigan.

More than 8,000 people signed a petition sponsored by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence that asked for Lenio to be barred from owning guns.

Jonathan Hutson was the man who spotted Lenio’s social media interactions and helped authorities track him down. He was unhappy with the decision to defer prosecution.

“The state of Montana is rearming a man who threatened to murder school children and religious leaders,” Hutson said Friday.

The results of a psychological evaluation ordered by Ulbricht are sealed from the public.

Will Randall, co-chairman of local Montana Human Rights Network affiliate group Love Lives Here, also was not pleased with the case’s conclusion.

“We are disappointed the David Lenio felony intimidation case has been settled behind closed doors, without the approval of the judge in the case, and that the public will not be given the opportunity to hear the facts of the case,” Randall said.

“Out of respect for the laws of the state of Montana, and our concern for public safety, we felt it was our duty to stand with local enforcement and in support of the charges brought by the county attorney’s office to make sure Mr. Lenio got the mental health care he needed and was prevented from being a danger to society.”

No one was available for comment from the Flathead County Attorney’s Office on Friday afternoon.

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