Although three people arrested during a protest at an Albemarle County School Board meeting appeared in court Tuesday, it was county officials who were in the hot seat.
Sabr Lyon, 30, and Andrea Massey, 48, appeared on trespassing charges in Albemarle County Circuit Court. Francis Richards, 63, appeared on charges of trespassing and obstruction of justice.
Lyon, Massey and Richards were among six people arrested at an emergency Albemarle County School Board meeting in August that devolved into chaos over the division’s dress code policy.
Defense attorneys argued that then-School Board Chairwoman Kate Acuff and County Executive Jeff Richardson violated their clients’ First Amendment rights by ejecting them from the meeting.
Because they were unconstitutionally ejected, the defense argued, they shouldn’t have been arrested.
Outside of the August meeting in Lane Auditorium, about 50 people joined the Hate-Free Schools Coalition for a “people’s meeting” reiterating the call to ban Confederate imagery. Eventually, Richardson directed organizers of the meeting to leave the building.
The defense said the government must prove that limiting free speech at a public meeting is necessary. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Juan Vega said it was necessary because the prior School Board meeting had been postponed due to protests.
Vega pointed out that Acuff didn’t eject anyone until someone from outside burst in.
“It was at this point, only at this point, that Dr. Acuff stopped the meeting to address a disturbance,” he said.
Richards was at the outside protest. His attorney, Bruce Williamson, said Richardson decided the gathering was disruptive to the School Board.
“He never checked. He never opened the door,” Williamson said. “He didn’t make any attempts to verify his subjective decision.”
Vega provided a transcript of Richardson’s testimony in General District Court in which he said he talked to people outside of the School Board meeting.
Richards’ arrest came from an interaction with officers in which Williamson said Richards stood between the officer and a woman being arrested.
Meanwhile, Lyon and Massey were inside the board meeting, where Massey held a banner reading “racists won’t get re-elected.”
Someone then burst into the room yelling about the arrests outside and was ejected by Acuff.
Massey then said Acuff was being “ridiculous” and was promptly ejected and arrested.
Her attorney, Janice Redinger, wanted to suppress statements Massey made after her arrest.
“What she did afterward was not relevant to the order to leave,” Redinger said.
Vega argued that Massey’s statements showed an intent to disrupt.
A video of the meeting showed Massey yelling, “Do you think they give a s--- about state code when you’re harming our children? You’re disgusting.”
After Massey was arrested, Lyon stepped to the podium, holding two signs. Acuff told her to step down before quickly ejecting her.
When an officer returned to the room, Acuff ejected Lyon from the meeting, after which she was arrested.
The defense also pointed out that the meeting continued because the board carried on a discussion during the time of the arrest.
“Acuff didn’t lose control of the meeting,” Redinger said. “She lost control of herself.”
Vega asked the court to put itself in Acuff’s spot.
“The question I have for this court is if a reasonable person … would find the defendants’ actions disruptive.”
Judge Cheryl Higgins said she plans to make an oral ruling on May 21.