JONESBORO — Two Valley View school teachers have sued a husband and wife, accusing them of making “false and defamatory statements” about the teachers’ involvement in the Jan. 6 “Save America Rally” at the U.S. Capitol.
Sean Allen and Emily Allen are named as defendants. The lawsuit doesn’t mention whether the Allens are residents of the school district, but the Allens filed ethics complaints against the teachers – Nancy Dobbs Best and Cindi Stimach Talbott.
“The plaintiffs’ nightmare with Sean and Emily Allen began January 2021 when the Allen’s embarked on a political and personal witch hunt starting with emails to Cindi Talbot and Nancy Best’s superintendent at Valley View School, Bryan Russell, demanding their immediate dismissal and firing for being at the Save America Rally in Washington, DC on January 6, 2021,” attorneys Robert Steinbuch of Little Rock and Chris P. Corbitt of Conway said in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Talbott and Best. The case was filed Friday in Craighead County Circuit Court.
The Sun first reported on the teachers’ participation in the march, which eventually turned violent, on Jan. 8. In that article, The Sun quoted the teachers’ own social media posts.
“I was there. ... Nancy and I made it all the way to the bottom of the scaffolding,” Talbot posted on Facebook.
Best said, “Where we were, as close as the foot of the steps, there was no violence that we saw. However, the crowd in front of us was being teargassed, and rubber bullets shot. I saw no weapons, and at one point the crowd was shouting, ‘Police stand down.’ There were many older people wanting their voices heard. I personally did not see who broke into the capital, nor where they went in at. The huge majority of the crowd was not violent.”
The teachers’ lawsuit said the Allens accused Best and Talbott of committing criminal acts while exercising their rights to free speech and freedom of assembly.
“In a (Facebook) post on the Valley View School District’s public page Sean Allen wrote: ‘Seditious traitors to our country and violent protesters are not suited for educating children. The actions these two teachers took are criminal. Fire these teachers for insurrection of our country,’” the complaint said.
“On Cindi Talbot’s Facebook page, January 2021, Allen stated, ‘Law enforcement will make the decision on whether to arrest, but the photos, videos, and contacts these ‘hatriots’ have on their phones and laptops are important to the FBI. They must turn themselves in.’”
The lawsuit said Emily Allen prepared a 58-page packet of information, much of which was gleaned from social media, and provided it anonymously to Russell, The Sun and others, on Jan. 27. The Sun never knew the identity of the packet’s author although much of the information in the packet had already been viewed by The Sun weeks earlier.
Information in the packet showed “Facebook posts made by Talbot and Best, as well as other Valley View employees, claiming to promote violence, racism, and hate.”
The following day, Sean Allen filed a complaint with the Arkansas Department of Education through the Professional Licensure Standards Board (PLSB) “for committing criminal and treasonous behaviors,” according to the suit.
Allen reportedly told PLSB investigators he had spent several hours researching years of social media posts from the teachers.
“Sean Allen then acknowledged to Talbot and Best’s PLSB investigators that, even though he had not read the article from The Sun, if the PLSB could get a copy of the anonymous packet and its information, it would somehow help build his case against Talbot and Best,” the attorneys alleged in the complaint.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents spoke with both teachers and concluded they played no role in the attack on the Capitol, in which seven people died during and after the rioting, including a woman who was shot by police as she tried to break into the House chamber and three other Trump supporters who suffered medical emergencies. Two police officers died by suicide in the days that followed, and a third officer, Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, collapsed and later died after engaging with the protesters. A medical examiner determined he died of natural causes, The Associated Press reported. The riot interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden’s win over then-President Donald Trump.
“After a two-month long investigation, on April 2, 2021, the PLSB ethics subcommittee voted unanimously that there was insufficient evidence to substantiate by the preponderance of evidence that the plaintiffs violated any standard of Code of Ethics,” the teachers’ attorneys wrote in their complaint. “The investigation was closed on this basis and no record of the investigation will be on file for licensure purposes.”
However, Russell confirmed to The Sun in January that the teachers’ social media posts violated district policy.
“These are in conflict with our social media policy, yes,” Russell told The Sun at the time. “There are statements there that we certainly don’t condone and you get to a particular point where I certainly supported those people in their right to do whatever they wanted to on their personal time as far as when they traveled to the event. We don’t do anything with that.
“But then the social media part of it is certainly in conflict with what the school district condones and expects of our employees.”
The lawsuit also claims the Allens made harassing phone calls as late as June to both women.
Best received about 12 calls the night of May 26, the lawyers said.
“Upon answering one of the calls, it was the same woman’s voice each time. The first of the calls from the harasser, the woman kept asking ‘Who’s the real President Nancy?’ Ms. Best asked ‘Who is this?’ and she kept asking the same question, so Ms. Best hung up, but the number continued to call, over and over again for several minutes, and finally left a voicemail. The female voicemail said ‘Hello Nancy, this is Donald Trump calling from the beautiful Mara Lago, the real White House, and I just want to say thank you for your part in my violent insurrection, Nancy, thank you for trying to overturn the United States government, God Bless you, Nancy.’”
The 50-page lawsuit said both Best and Talbott have suffered mental anguish and physical health issues, fear for the welfare of family members and damage to their reputations.
They seek more than $1 million in compensatory damages and more than $3 million in punitive damages.