In this photo from Aug. 31, 2021, protester Justin Spiehs holds signs bearing anti-mask messages in front of Sunset Hill Elementary School in Lawrence. (August Rudisell/The Lawrence Times)
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LAWRENCE — A man who has become well-known in Lawrence for his protests of mask mandates was arrested Saturday morning for allegedly threatening people with a sign post as they attempted to enter a vaccine clinic for kids.
Justin Paul Spiehs, 40, of Lawrence, was arrested at 10:08 a.m. Saturday on suspicion of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the jail’s booking log shows.
The arrest location was listed as 2700 Harvard Road — West Middle School, where Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health was holding a vaccine clinic for children ages 5-11 Saturday morning.
“Officers arrived on scene and contacted the victim and the victim’s child who reported they were attempting to enter a nearby vaccine clinic when the suspect confronted them,” Lawrence Police Lt. David Ernst said via email Saturday. “The victims reported the suspect separated a stick from a sign the suspect was holding and began to wave the stick at them; placing the victims in fear of bodily harm.”
Spiehs for months has been protesting near Lawrence Public Schools buildings, including near district offices on the corner of Second Street and McDonald Drive. The Times wrote about his protests outside Sunset Hill Elementary after hearing concerns from numerous people in the school community. He has also drawn attention recently at the Statehouse in Topeka, protesting federal vaccination mandates.
Lawrence police had been called to at least two incidents involving Spiehs prior to Saturday — one altercation near Sunset Hill Elementary on Sept. 2, and one incident in which a person livestreamed a counterprotest and someone watching called police on Oct. 15.
Daniel Smith, a spokesperson for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health, said he didn’t have much information about Saturday morning’s clinic, since “our people are generally super busy inside the clinic and can’t monitor what’s happening outside.”
“What we know is mostly heard from the parents coming in. Our primary concern is their safety,” Smith said. “We haven’t had any other notable incidents at the 5-11 clinics so far though.”
Spiehs has recently been employed as a non-tenured assistant professor of human services in the Family and Human Services Department at Washburn University. He joined the faculty more than five years ago.
Patrick Early, a spokesperson for the university, told the Kansas Reflector last week that there was no WU prohibition hindering Spiehs from speaking his mind — “We certainly respect the rights of faculty members to express their opinions,” Early said.
On Saturday, though, it was unclear whether Spiehs was still employed by the university in any capacity. His faculty page (previously at this link) now redirects to the staff directory. Early did not immediately respond to an email seeking to clarify.
In Kansas law, “assault” is defined as “knowingly placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm,” or essentially threatening someone. Aggravated assault is a level-7 (low-level) felony. A charge of battery would indicate that a person made physical contact with another person.
Spiehs was being held without bond at the jail early Saturday; his bond was updated to $2,500 cash or surety around 5:30 p.m., and he was released on $2,500 surety bond just after 8 p.m. with a court appearance set for Dec. 2.
He had not been charged with a crime as of Saturday afternoon, but Ernst said the case will be submitted to the district attorney’s office for charging consideration.
All arrestees and defendants should be presumed not guilty unless and until they are convicted.
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