Gwinnett County Public Schools police arrested two women in separate events at the county school board meeting Thursday night as the district operated a new security area for the first time at a board meeting.
Snellville resident Karen Pirkle and Suwanee resident Brenda Stewart were arrested at a security screening area outside the board meeting chambers, according to district spokeswoman Sloan Roach.
Roach said Pirkle was arrested on a criminal trespass charge. Roach said Pirkle was the woman who got into a stand off with Board Chairman Everton Blair over her refusal to wear a face mask at the October school board meeting.
That standoff ultimately resulted in the meeting ending early. The district’s spokeswoman said it also resulted in a “no trespassing” warning against Pirkle.
“After misbehavior at the last meeting, a criminal trespass warning was issued, and that’s a letter that basically explains you’re not allowed to come on GCPS property,” Roach said. “That was communicated with her and then she showed up tonight still attempting to come to the meeting, so she violated that order.”
There were two reports related to Pirkle’s arrest and two related to Stewart’s arrest that were filed by GCPS police that were sent to the Daily Post on Friday.
In one of the reports on Pirkle’s arrest, Officer R. Herndon wrote that Pirkle was allegedly “attempting to force her way past other officers in an attempt to enter the board room.”
The report states the criminal trespass warning was issued on Oct. 29, and that Pirkle was barred from entering the Instructional Support Center, which board meetings are held, for 12 months.
Herndon said in the report that Pirkle was told she would not be allowed to enter the ISC because of the criminal trespass warning, and that she allegedly responded by saying “watch me, watch me.” Herndon also said GCPS Executive Director of Administration and Policy Jorge Gomez had also asked Pirkle to leave the ISC property.
“Mrs. Pirkle continued to be uncooperative and refused to leave the premises so she was placed under arrest for criminal trespass,” Herndon wrote in his report.
Meanwhile, Roach said Stewart was arrested and charged with willful obstruction of law enforcement officers after she got into a scuffle with a police officer at the metal detector that all attendees were required to go through before they could enter the meeting chambers.
Thursday was the first time the district had used metal detectors at a school board meeting. Everyone who planned to attend the meeting had to go through the security checkpoint, which included officers looking in attendees bags.
“It’s my understanding that she came through the metal detector and didn’t stop ... she rushed through and didn’t stop,” Roach said. “She was stopped (by police) and directed back through.
“During a search of her bag, scissors were found. She was told she could not bring those into the meeting and grabbed for the scissors and struggled with the officer and the officer actually was scratched during the struggle.”
Stewart disputed the account of the events leading up to the arrest on Friday.
“There were many, many hands in the pot,” she told the Daily Post. “It was an abuse of power and a travesty.”
In one of two reports on Stewart’s arrest, Officer Felicia Churchill said Stewart had been behind Pirkle in line to go through the metal detectors and that she allegedly “placed her bag on the checkpoint table and ran through the metal detector to retrieve the arrestee’s belongings.”
Stewart said, however, that she did not run through the metal detector.
“I set my bag down, told the couple SROs at the front area of security that I was going to run grab Karen’s phone (who I had never met before) because she had said, ‘Can someone take my phone to my husband,’ “ she said. “I left my bag for security to check and tried to help someone who needed help — was being escorted roughly away in handcuffs.”
Another officer then told Stewart that she needed to return to the checkpoint and go through it again, according to Churchill’s report. Churchill said she began going through Stewart’s purse as she went back through the checkpoint, and found a small pair of scissors “that could potentially be used as a weapon.”
Churchill said she removed the scissors from Stewart’s purse and Stewart allegedly “became belligerent and attempted to grab for the scissors” while the officer’s finger and thumb were still in the loop of the scissors.
Churchill then ordered Stewart to “let go of my hand,” according to the report.
“Ms. Stewart continued to yell stating that they were knitting scissors and rounded on top,” Churchill wrote in the report. “Verbal commands were repeated to Ms. Stewart to remove her hand, but she continued and a scuffle pursued between Officer Baldwin, Officer Moody and I.
“During the scuffle, I was able to free my hand and gain full possession of the scissors.”
Churchill stated in the report that she “sustained redness to my thumb” as a result of the scuffle, and that “the injury was photographed” by another officer.
Stewart, however, said the police did not ask her to go back through the metal detector, and that she went back through it on her own. She also said the scissors were non-sharp children’s scissors.
“When I returned, SRO told me that ‘these can’t go in,’ ” Stewart said. “I reached to get scissors back and was then attacked by at least five SROs because of a pair of child scissors that were mine.
“The SRO could have told me that I couldn’t take them into meeting, but it wasn’t her property to take. I could take said scissors and depart building. I did not try and take the scissors and run into the meeting.”
Stewart also accused the GCPS police officers of not reading her Miranda Rights to her when she was arrested, and leaving her in handcuffs for three hours.
“The story is that our BOE, (Superintendent) and SROs created a (expletive) to serve as a deterrent for parents to participate in board meetings and education curriculum,” Stewart said. “The story is that SG, BOE and (Superintendent) want all parents to know that if they dare misbehave, they will go to jail and have their mug shot plastered all over the news. I showed up to the meeting to listen.”
The charges against Stewart and Pirkle are misdemeanor offenses and bond was set at $1,300 for each woman.