FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — An attorney from the office of Fairfax County Commonwealth Attorney Steve Descano has filed a motion to nolle prosequi, Latin for “not prosecute,” Harry Jackson, a former U.S. Naval intelligence officer and father who has been a strong parent advocate against the war on merit education in this Washington, D.C., suburb.
A judge will hear the motion at a scheduled hearing on Friday, April 8, at 10 a.m. in Fairfax County District Court in Fairfax, Va.
In this truly bizarre case, chronicled fully here, a local woke activist, Jorge Torrico, filed four criminal complaints starting in September 2021 with the local magistrate, alleging that Jackson broke a little-used criminal law against “slander and libel,” by posting a tweet asserting that Torrico had engaged in “‘grooming’ behavior” during a November 2020 Zoom meeting of the PTSA at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Jackson has a son at the school. Torrico is a 1998 graduate of the school and does not have any children who attend the school.
In one complaint, Torrico made a point of noting that Jackson is a member of the Coalition for TJ and a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Pacific Legal Foundation against the Fairfax County School Board, raising serious questions about whether these complaints were politically motivated. Torrico is a leader in the TJ Alumni Action Group, which lobbied the school board to remove a race-blind, merit-based test to TJ, as the school is known. The board indeed changed admissions in December 2020. Jackson is a cofounder of Coalition for TJ (with me), arguing that the merit-based admissions process should be returned to TJ. Earlier this year, a federal judge sided with the Coalition for TJ and ruled the new admissions process is illegal, unconstitutional and anti-Asian. Torrico and TJ Alumni Action Group did not return requests for comment.
In the motion, filed Thursday, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Paul Vitale wrote, “After a review of the facts and evidence for the four claims brought by Mr. Torrico, the Commonwealth does not believe there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the above-mentioned charges.”
But Jackson’s attorney, Marina Medvin, filed an objection, essentially saying not so fast. By simply stating that the prosecutor’s office will not prosecute the case, Descano leaves open the potential to prosecute Jackson in the future. She noted in her objection: “The government’s request is a constitutional copout,” essentially “opening the door to continued harassment of Jackson and any other individual whom the Complainant and others like him find offensive.”
Jackson’s attorney is seeking “dismissal with prejudice, a true closure in a criminal case.” The law that Torrico cited to harass Jackson was written in 1950 to protect the “chastity” of women from smears.
In her objection, Medvin noted that at a Feb. 23, 2022, hearing, the prosecutor’s office dragged the case out. “Instead of moving for a nolle prosequi or agreeing to dismiss the criminal case, the Commonwealth sought to continue the case to ‘investigate.’”
She continued, “It appears that the Commonwealth’s Attorney had done nothing during the five months that this case was pending and needed more time.”
Indeed, the judge granted the prosecutor the continuance, making the threat of prosecution hang over Jackson’s head for weeks.
“About three weeks had passed after the court date — and the Commonwealth's Attorney’s Office had still not done anything with this case,” Medvin wrote, noting that on March 14, 2022, Torrico received two additional summons from the Fairfax County Magistrate’s Office against Jackson for the alleged crime (again) of “slander and libel.”
The case of the Commonwealth of Virgina v. Harry R. Jackson has alarmed parents around the country for its clear targeting of a parent who has emerged like so many parents as an accidental activist, calling out his local school board for impropriety. But like Jackson, they are defiant and undeterred in their championing for America’s children.
In the motion, Vitale wrote that “the Commonwealth is requesting the Court grant this motion and the case is removed from the docket on April 8, 2022.”
Medvin noted that Descano’s office has “decided to avoid taking a position on the stifling of free speech by an unconstitutional statute.”
She is correct. Parents — and journalists — should not face the threat of criminal “libel and slander” charges. The law that Torrico used to harass Jackson should be repealed and Descano needs to send a clear message that it is not a law fit for the 21st century.
Asra Q. Nomani is a former Wall Street Journal reporter. She can be reached at email@example.com and @AsraNomani on Twitter.