Soros-backed DA prosecuting parent who accused another of 'grooming behavior'
Criminal summons cites 1950 statute that protects a "female's character for virtue and chastity" but was revised with gender-neutral language in 2020.
Heated debates over admissions and race in an elite Virginia public school have spilled over into a criminal case against a parent by a prosecutor elected with help from a left-wing megadonor.
Fairfax County Commonwealth's Attorney Steve Descano is prosecuting Harry Jackson, former president of the Thomas Jefferson High School (TJHS) Parent Teacher Student Association and alleged Republican activist, for his provocative description of parent Jorge Torrico's interaction with a student.
Descano received $392,000 from financier George Soros's Justice and Public Safety PAC in 2019, The Washington Post reported. He took office in 2020 and is now the target of two recall attempts, one by the county Republican committee, according to Ballotpedia.
The basis for Descano's four criminal summons to Jackson is a 1950 Virginia statute that prohibits false statements about a "female's character for virtue and chastity." A 2020 overhaul removed gender-specific terms across state law, making the inherently gendered statute "unconstitutionally ambiguous," according to Jackson's motion to dismiss.
"Can a person who is not a female be of chaste character under the law?" the motion says. "Can a male who feels insulted by another male pursue a criminal prosecution under this statute?"
The Virginia Supreme Court limited a more relevant statute on breach of the peace to "personal, face-to-face, abusive and insulting language likely to provoke a violent reaction and retaliation," a ruling which also limits the application of the chastity statute, the motion says. A judge is scheduled to hear arguments April 8.
Jackson's lawyer Marina Medvin is associated with RightDefense.org, a nonprofit founded this year to fund legal defense for conservatives charged with criminal offenses in Virginia and D.C., with an emphasis on protecting constitutional rights.
The organization's only listed case is for Jackson, who is "accused of voicing concerns about an adult who sought to spend time alone with minors at a local school," according to the group's website. Medvin has also represented Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants.
Jackson and Torrico are leaders in dueling school activist groups. Jackson's Coalition for TJ filed a lawsuit against the school's revamped admissions focused on "racial diversity," which they claim is intended to reduce Asian-American admissions.
Torrico's TJ Alumni Action Group favors an "anti-racist" admissions policy, which Coalition for TJ member Asra Nomani claims would "make TJ white again." Jackson told The Wall Street Journal most of the coalition's members are Democrats and "many" are nonwhite, including him.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked a trial court's stay on the admissions policy March 31 against the wishes of Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, who is siding with the Coalition for TJ.
Torrico filed a handwritten criminal complaint in September alleging that Jackson "attempted [to] character assassinate me" to TJHS Principal Ann Bonitatibus. It also pointed to Jackson's November 2020 tweet, miswritten as 2021 in the complaint, accusing Torrico of "exhibiting 'grooming' behavior" at a virtual school meeting the night before.
Jackson was referring to Torrico's online chat with the student body president of TJHS, who asked for Torrico's email to provide information about an upcoming event for middle school students such as Torrico's son, according to Nomani's account of the dispute. Torrico wrote back "thank you" with a smiley face emoticon.
Nomani and other parents complained to Principal Bonitatibus, who responded that she had "redirected" Torrico to the middle school principal. "FCPS has clear guidelines for which platforms are used for adults to interact with students,” Bonitatibus wrote.
Torrico's complaint said another person subsequently asked the cycling advocate "why do you target minors - by trying to take them bicycling?" He said this shows Jackson "propagated the libel."
Torrico amended his complaint last month after Jackson discussed Descano's prosecution in an interview with USANOW.TV. Jackson allegedly mentioned Torrico by name and accused him of "grooming behavior" again, but said he didn't report this person.
Torrico showed Just the News a March 29 USANOW video that he claims is the same one except for a short audio gap in the 24th minute, which originally included Jackson saying his name. Torrico believes Jackson requested the original video be hidden and re-uploaded with that snippet removed in response to the amended complaint.
Jackson can disagree and insult him in other ways, "but to insinuate you or I are pedophiles … Can you think of a more vile and damaging insult?" Torrico wrote in a series of Twitter direct messages, calling it especially harmful for an education volunteer like him.
"Frankly, this is just about holding [Jackson] accountable to his libel and the active defamation of my good name, to silence my 1st amendment [sic], and that of so many families who have been silenced because they know what happened to me," Torrico wrote.
The case could have trouble if it were moved to federal court. A federal jury took less than an hour to exonerate Tesla CEO Elon Musk of libel in 2019 for using the phrase "pedo guy" to describe a caver who rescued trapped Thai schoolboys.
Jackson's lawyer Medvin declined to respond to Torrico's allegations to Just the News or explain why the video at the Web address in the complaint is now marked private.
"Per court rules, I cannot comment on this until the case is resolved," she wrote in an email, asking for a followup after Friday's court hearing. Prosecutor Descano has not answered queries about the applicability of the chastity law to Jackson's comments about Torrico.
On Tuesday, Nomani posted video that Jackson recorded as police served him with new papers after Torrico amended his complaint. The papers show, and the officer confirms, he has another court date April 22 stemming from the new allegations.
The Facts Inside Our Reporter's Notebook
- alleged Republican activist
- The Washington Post
- Jackson's motion to dismiss
- Jan. 6 Capitol riot defendants
- Coalition for TJ filed a lawsuit
- TJ Alumni Action Group
- Asra Nomani claims
- The Wall Street Journal
- 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the trial court's stay
- Attorney General Jason Miyares
- "attempted [to] character assassinate me"
- Jackson's November 2020 tweet
- Nomani's account of the dispute
- cycling advocate
- Torrico called him a "vile man"
- Jackson responded
- Web address cited by Torrico
- archived version
- March 29 USANOW video
- exonerate Tesla CEO Elon Musk of libel
- Jackson recorded with the police