September 20, 2019

Prosecutors: South Burlington student admitted threat

The entrance to South Burlington High School and its neighboring middle school. File photo by Gail Callahan/VTDigger

The entrance to South Burlington High School and its neighboring middle school. File photo by Gail Callahan/VTDigger

By Morgan True

For Vermont Digger

The South Burlington High School student accused of making a series of escalating threats last week has admitted sending at least one of them, according to court filings.

Josiah Leach, 18, was arrested Friday and held through the weekend. He faces a felony charge in federal court of “knowingly transmitting in interstate commerce a communication that includes a threat to injure the person or another.” The charge carries up to a five-year prison sentence.

In an affidavit establishing probable cause for the charge, FBI Special Agent Jennifer Vander Veer, who investigates cyber crime, laid out how Leach allegedly made eight threats via email, Facebook and phone over a four-day period last week.

The threats led to heightened security and three days of lockdowns at South Burlington High School before district officials eventually canceled school districtwide on Friday.

At an initial court appearance Monday, District Judge Christina Reiss granted the U.S. attorney’s request for more time to build a case for detaining Leach pending resolution of his case. A detention hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

In a motion arguing for Leach’s detention, the U.S. attorney for Vermont argued that the region “has rarely, if ever, seen a crime of violence affecting as many people” as the threats Leach is accused of making. Federal law defines a crime of violence to include “threatened use of physical force,” according to the filing.

Leach allegedly told police he sent at least one of the threatening emails, according to the filing. He also claimed to have destroyed cellphones identified in a search warrant, but later reversed that claim when told police had a warrant. The phones were discovered in his bedroom, according to the filing.

Though police found no weapons while searching his home, and Leach has never been convicted of a crime, the government’s motion states that, if released, “it is reasonable to believe that, based on his prior behavior, (Leach) would again resort to threats.”

Although he has no convictions, Leach has been arrested several times, including during a 2014 burglary in progress in Burlington, according to the government’s motion.

Leach is being represented by Elizabeth Quinn with the federal public defender’s office. He was led into court by law enforcement with his hands cuffed behind his back. Leach responded quietly in the affirmative to Judge Reiss when she asked if he understood the charge and his rights.

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