Virginia governor pardons man whose arrest at a school board meeting galvanized conservatives

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at The Gathering conservative political conference in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2023. (Arvin Temkar/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The father of a Virginia student sexually assaulted in her high school bathroom has been pardoned after his arrest two years ago protesting a school board meeting became a flashpoint in the conservative push to increase parental involvement in public education.

Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced on Fox News Sunday that he had pardoned Scott Smith of his disorderly conduct conviction stemming from the June 2021 incident. The episode featured prominently throughout the gubernatorial campaign that year for Youngkin, who has made support for the so-called “parents' rights” movement a cornerstone of his political brand.

“Scott Smith is a dedicated parent who’s faced unwarranted charges in his pursuit to protect his daughter," Youngkin said Sunday in a press release. “Scott’s commitment to his child despite the immense obstacles is emblematic of the parental empowerment movement that started in Virginia.”

According to Loudoun Now, Smith threatened to kick out the teeth of deputies who dragged him away from a Loudoun County School Board meeting over state-mandated protections for transgender students. The local news outlet reported that he had argued loudly, clenched his fist and sworn at a woman while demanding answers over the handling of his daughter's assault.

In a statement released Sunday, Smith vowed to pursue legal action against Loudoun County Public Schools and continue fighting “for parents and their children.” The district did not immediately respond to a phone call and email requesting a response.

But Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Buta Biberaj said Sunday that Youngkin was interfering in the case for “political gain" before the start of early voting in legislative elections.

“The justice system does not work when a Governor becomes the judge and jury,” Biberaj said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

A trial was scheduled this fall over Smith’s appeal of the disorderly conduct conviction and a circuit court judge had already tossed another charge of obstructing justice. Smith told WJLA that his pardon marked a “bittersweet moment.” He hoped the justice system would absolve him of wrongdoing without the “offramp” of a pardon.

“What happened to me cannot ever happen to another American again,” Smith said in an exclusive interview posted Sunday.

The teenager convicted of assaulting Smith’s daughter was later found guilty of forcibly touching another classmate at a nearby school where the perpetrator was allowed to attend classes while awaiting trial in juvenile court. The case galvanized conservatives nationwide when reports spread that the cisgender male student wore a skirt during the first attack.

Youngkin's administration has since rolled back protections for transgender students. Model policies posted last fall by the Virginia Department of Education say students use of bathroom and locker facilities should be based on biological sex and that minors must be referred to by the name and pronouns in their official records, unless a parent approves otherwise.

The fallout came last December for the Northern Virginia school district in the Smith case. The board fired its superintendent after a special grand jury accused him of lying about the first sexual assault. The grand jury's scathing report accused the school system of mishandling the teenage perpetrator and said authorities ignored multiple warning signs that could have prevented the second assault. Administrators failed to sufficiently communicate the risk posed by the student to the new school, according to the report.

The grand jury found a “stunning lack of openness, transparency and accountability" but no evidence of a coordinated cover-up.