Anti-mask protester pleads no contest to reduced charges; will serve probation for incident at a Lawrence vaccine clinic

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Post last updated at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30:

A Lawrence man who had been facing two felony charges of aggravated assault after an incident outside of a vaccine clinic for kids last fall agreed to plead no contest on Monday to two misdemeanor charges, and he will serve a year of probation.

Justin Spiehs, 41, was scheduled to go to trial Sept. 12 for the Nov. 13, 2021 incident, which involved a man and his 9-year-old son who were walking toward the entrance of a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at West Middle School.

According to testimony at his preliminary hearing in April, Spiehs — who is also the Republican candidate running for Douglas County Commission District 1 this fall — had been protesting outside of the clinic when he pulled his sign off the piece of wood it was attached to and walked toward the father and son, “waiving the stick around” while yelling at the victims.

Under Kansas law, “assault” is defined as “knowingly placing another person in reasonable apprehension of immediate bodily harm,” or essentially threatening someone. 

Spiehs’ defense attorney during the preliminary hearing, Thomas Johnson, argued that Spiehs had not presented any immediate danger, and said the father had pressed charges out of preconceived notions based on media reports that had repeatedly featured Spiehs among anti-mask protesters outside of school district headquarters.

On Monday, Douglas County District Court Judge Sally Pokorny accepted a plea agreement reducing the charges against Spiehs to one count of child endangerment and one count of endangerment, both Class A misdemeanors.

Spiehs told Pokorny that his recent brushes with the law had been life-altering for him, and he assured her that he did not intend to reoffend.

“I appreciate the time and attention you’ve given me,” he said to Pokorny. “I take responsibility for what happened. I should have behaved differently, and I accept responsibility. I’m going to make sure my behavior never costs me like this again.”

Pokorny warned Spiehs that he did not have to say anything about the incident, but invited him to speak about it if he would like to. He said his reaction at the vaccine clinic was because he thought the two people were coming to harm him. He said he had been attacked while protesting at Sunset Hill Elementary.

Defense attorney Matt Donnelly, an associate of Johnson, and Assistant Douglas County District Attorney Brian Deiter both spoke in court on Monday in support of the plea agreement.

Donnelly said that he believed Spiehs would be successful with the term of supervised probation.

“He has the skills to work through things and not appear before you again,” Donnelly told the judge.


Spiehs added his initials to documents in court, and Pokorny went over the agreement with him line by line before entering a guilty verdict in the case. As part of the agreement, Pokorny dismissed a separate charge of disorderly conduct associated with Spiehs’ arrest April 20 during a Douglas County Commission meeting.

Based on recommendations in the plea agreement, Pokorny sentenced Spiehs to 12 months in the county jail on each charge to run concurrently. Pokorny also agreed to suspend the sentence and, under conditions including that he does not contact any victim or witnesses in the case, will allow Spiehs instead to served 12 months of supervised probation.

Pokorny said Spiehs had reported to meet with his attorneys regularly and he had never missed or been late to a court date.

“You need to carry that attitude forward with your probation officer,” she told him.

Asked if he’d like to comment for this article, Spiehs said “You know you guys won’t give me a fair shake.”

Note: The headline of this article was updated to reflect that Spiehs’ term of probation is in connection with the incident in which he was initially charged with two felony counts of aggravated assault.

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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