Cortez Police, Sheriff’s Office Investigating Threat Made During RE-1 School Board Meeting
A Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Board meeting was cut short Tuesday night after several people connected via Zoom heckled and made a threat toward board member Lance McDaniel.
Note: This story contains language describing sexual assault.
A video recording reviewed by KSJD News shows the hybrid meeting continuing normally for more than 20 minutes, when the board then started a discussion on whether to continue hosting meetings via Zoom or only in-person.
McDaniel, who participated virtually, was interrupted mid-sentence by an unknown voice saying, “Good evening, everyone.” Over the next 30 seconds, several voices are heard talking over each other while making comments about McDaniel’s beard before one person makes a threat.
“If you [unintelligible] one more time, I’m going to rape all of your daughters,” the person said. Multiple people are heard shouting, making it difficult to identify specific sentences, before the recording abruptly ends.
Jerry Sam, the district’s school resource officer, says he is investigating the incident with a detective at the Montezuma County sheriff’s office. At this time, Sam says identifying who made the threat is the investigation’s priority.
Sam told KSJD Thursday afternoon that information associated with Zoom accounts, including IP addresses, is being reviewed. At the time, he said it’s not clear if the multiple voices were coming from different accounts, or if they were using the same account.
McDaniel says he is disturbed by the threat and alerted his daughter, who does not live in the area, as a precaution.
“I’ve also kind of come to the realization that there’s not much that they won’t say in terms of trying to bully or to discount another person’s opinion,” McDaniel told KSJD on Thursday.
The threat comes as McDaniel faces a recall attempt over his conduct on social media, where he often publicly writes about politics and advocates for progressive causes. In their statement of grounds, organizers Deborah McHenry and Malynda Nelsen reference the board member’s comments on renaming Cortez City Park to Veterans Park (McDaniel told The Journal in January that it was a joke for a veteran friend) and saying “I’m Antifa” in the wake of nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd.
Earlier this month, the county clerk’s office said the organizers’ petition met the signature threshold to enter a protest period before determining if the recall can move forward. If it does, the school district will be responsible for the expense of the recall election.
McDaniel says he’s troubled to see disagreements turn into threats but is thankful for the support he has already received from other board members and the community since Tuesday’s meeting.
“I feel like I have the support of the people that have open minds,” McDaniel said. “People that believe that freedom of speech is an important right in our country.”
Until the investigation reveals more information, McDaniel agreed with Sam that it is not clear if the multiple voices were part of a coordinated effort, but the timing leads him to believe so.
Superintendent Lori Haukeness told KSJD Thursday evening that the board will consider pressing charges depending on the recommendations of the police department.
She added that it’s an incredibly stressful time for district administrators, staff and students. The board has asked her to continue providing virtual meetings because board members have noticed increased participation from parents. But she said she expects public comments to stay respectful and focused on the education of students.
“The board strives to serve to be positive role models and endorse civic leadership for our students,” Haukeness said. “I would just ask for the community to respect board members on the same level.”
On Friday morning, Haukeness shared a prepared statement on behalf of the board that said future public comment must be "directly related to the education of students" and that participants will be limited to two minutes. The rest of the statement echoes the superintendent's interview with KSJD by emphasizing community support and the board's shock at Tuesday's events.
"There is no time greater than now for the district to have the support of the community as the district focuses on providing a quality education and ensuring a safe environment for our students and staff," the statement said.
Updated 4:50 p.m., Oct. 23: This article has been updated to include a statement released Friday morning by the board.