MARTINSBURG – Two Jefferson County school bus drivers filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson for investigating their attendance at the massive Save America political protest that turned violent and mutinous at and inside the U.S. Capitol.
Tina Renner and Pamela McDonald are demanding a jury trial to hear their claim that Gibson violated their constitutional rights to freed speech and political expression.
“The U.S. Capitol has long been recognized as, and in fact is, a traditional public forum and/or a designated public forum that has been open to citizen protests and political rallies,” states the women’s joint complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Martinsburg. “Indeed, on just about any controversial political and social topic, protestors and rally participants have been found at the U.S. Capitol exercising their First Amendment rights to petition, assemble and speak.
“In-person protests are a time-honored, venerable means of expressing dissent in our constitutional republic.”
Describing Gibson as a “known anti-Trump, left-wing activist,” the lawsuit claims inconsistent and arbitrary treatment of Renner and McDonald. Offering an example, it mentions that in 2019 a Jefferson teacher was arrested during a protest demonstration “with other left-wing protestors” to occupy West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin’s Capitol Hill office.
Gibson took no disciplinary action against the teacher even as the incident was mentioned by name news, mentioning the teacher by name, according to the lawsuit.
The superintendent placed Renner and McDonald, who attended the protest on the National Mall together, on paid administrative leave after initiating an investigation into the women’s behavior at the rally.
In separate but similar letters announcing her formal investigations, Gibson told the women she received complaints about comments related to the rally that were posted or “tagged’ by others onto their personal social media accounts.
The superintendent stated she was looking into whether the bus drivers violated any laws.
Her letter to McDonald stated, “I have reviewed disturbing videos and photographs posted that tagged you on a public social media page which included threatening and demeaning statements regarding federal government officials.
“I understand that many community members are upset by these images. Particularly in our community n which a large percentage of children have parents who work in federal government including federal law enforcement.”
Both letters to McDonald and Renner stated that the longtime bus drivers were subject to “disciplinary action,” including the possible loss of their jobs, depending on what their personnel probes discovered.
Gibson has stated publicly that she started the investigations into McDonald’s and Renner’s political activity as part of her responsibility to stay “hyper vigilant” to keep students safe against potential threats of violence. She also stated school employees must model proper behavior for students.
In a letter and a video message sent to school employees on Monday, Gibson said her investigations would follow strict due process procedures for such personnel matters.
Through a spokesman for the county school system, the superintendent offered this comment about the lawsuit: “Dr. Gibson respects the system of due process for all citizens in our county and trusts the integrity of the judiciary to uphold that process.”
Gibson is being sued personally. However, the school system pays for $6 million in professional liability insurance coverage as part of her employment contract with the school system. The liability coverage is mandated by West Virginia law for all school superintendents.
Renner and McDonald stated in their 16-page lawsuit that they peacefully and lawfully attended the Washington rally with three friends from Jefferson County. They state that they heard President Trump speak at the Washington Monument before following thousands of people down the mall toward the Capitol, stopping at the reflecting pool on the West side below the Capitol.
“They did not cross any barricades or barriers and at all times remained in the area designated for public occupation,” according to their lawsuit. “They observed no violence nor destruction of property. The crowd was entirely peaceful from their point of view.”
Renner and McDonald say they left the mall to meet a chartered bus parked on the other side of the mall near the Holocaust Museum. The bus was scheduled to leave Washington at about 3:45 p.m. to take the women and others back to Frederick, Maryland.
“They did not witness, nor did they participate in, the lawless actions which occurred that day closer to, and within, the Capitol building,” according to their lawsuit filed by attorney John Bryan of Union, West Virginia.
After the Washington rally Renner and McDonald each received a phone call from their supervisor, Director of Transportation Glenn “JR” Hollen, the lawsuit states. He separately informed the women would be placed on administrative leave. “He said it was due to their presence the Trump Rally in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021,” according to the lawsuit. “He further asked them not to discuss the substance of the phone call with anyone.”
Afterward, Gibson sent her letters to the women informing them of the investigations against them, according to the lawsuit.