All three men who barged into an Arizona elementary school principal’s office and threatened to arrest her with zip ties after she followed county-set COVID-19 protocols have been arrested and charged with trespassing.
Rishi Rambaran, 40, confronted Diane Vargo, principal of Mesquite Elementary School, after she told his son to quarantine following a COVID-19 exposure in the school. Kelly Walker, 51, filmed the scene and shared it in a since-deleted Instagram post and Frank Tainatongo, 58, followed behind with military-grade black zip ties.
Rambaran was cited and released on a third-degree charge of criminal trespassing a few hours after the event. Meanwhile, Tainatongo and Walker were arrested with the same charge on Monday. If convicted, all three face up to 30 days in jail.
While Rambaran has a child in the school, Walker has no distinct connections to the district and reportedly homeschools his own five children, according to the Daily Beast. It is not clear if Tainatongo has any connection to the school or what his relationship is with the two other men.
The three men who threatened an Arizona principal with zip ties for telling a student to quarantine have been arrested on trespassing charges. Rishi Rambaran, 40, has a child in the school who was told to quarantine after a potential COVID-19 exposure
Kelly Walker, 51, owner of Viva Coffee in Tucson, filmed the scene and shared it in a since-deleted Instagram post
Frank Tainatongo, 58, also joined in the confrontation – while holding military-grade zip ties
Walker defended he and his friends actions in a Facebook post last Thursday, which reads, ‘When this kind of coercion and bullying is perpetrated by school administrators, breaking the law, a citizens’ arrest is an option worth looking into.’
The post adds, ‘If it’s legal, then parents have the right to consider it. No one threatened to arrest these admins, but the father asked the police to. The truth will come out, but don’t expect anything but spin from the “media.” ’
According to Tucson Police Spokesman Richard Gradillas, citizens’ arrests are extremely rare and he has never seen one carried out in his 14 years on the job.
Vargo told a NBC News that she and her assistant were both planning to press charges against the men, in addition to seeking restraining orders.
In an interview with KOLD.com, she said she received a death threat immediately after the encounter. She read the disturbing email on camera, which reads, ‘The next time it will be a barrel pointed at your Nazi face.’
It continues, ‘Following the guidance you say? The Nazis were just following orders too. Guess we will have to see what side you choose. The Americans or the Nazis. Remember, Tucson is a small community and you have a target on your back for enforcing unlawful orders.’
It’s unclear who sent the email.
Mesquite Elementary School Principal Diane Vargo read an email after Thursday’s incident that started with ‘The next time it will be a barrel pointed at your Nazi face’
Vargo teared up during the interview when she discussed the ‘overwhelming’ support from community
The incident unfolded after Rambaran grew angry that his son was going to miss a field trip because he had to be quarantined after a potential COVID-19 exposure.
Varga said that he confronted her even though the rule had been laid out by the Prima County Health Department.
‘They just walked right in and one of them had a phone out and was recording everything again and then the other man was standing in my doorway with military-grade back zip ties in his hands,’ Vargo told KOLD.
In an interview with KGUN9, Vargo said she felt ‘scared’ and ‘violated.’
‘I asked them to leave and they would not,’ she said.
‘In order for our school to remain open, we have to follow Pima County Health Department. I tried to explain that. He didn’t want to hear it.’
After the incident made national headlines, Vargo said during a tearful interview that there was ‘overwhelming support’ from the community and the nation, with many people sending her flowers and well wishes.
The men left the school grounds before Tucson Police Department officers arrived. No one was hurt in the incident.
Walker and Rambaran are due in court on Sept. 15. Tainatongo’s next court appearance is scheduled for Sept. 20.
Superintendent Carruth says he knows tensions are high but that the parents took things too far.
‘We work really hard to try to resolve concerns that parents have and this has absolutely been a difficult and challenging 18 months and I understand when people become frustrated and understand when sometimes we can’t come to a solution that’s agreeable with everybody. But there is ways to resolve this that don’t involve this and that just has no place on a school campus at all,’ Carruth told KOLD.com.
A group of fathers recorded themselves ‘confronting’ principal Diane Vargo after one of their sons was ordered to quarantine
According to the Daily Beast, Kelly Walker’s business, Viva Coffee, describes itself as ‘Tucson’s hub of Freedom and delicious coffee’ and recently hosted a meet-and-greet with far-right author and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza. Next month it will host Matthew Lohmeier, a former Space Force lieutenant colonel who was fired from his post in May after claiming that there was a ‘neo-Marxist agenda’ in the military ‘designed to patiently and methodically overthrow the US government and replace it with a communist dictatorship.’
Last fall, Walker’s coffee shop fell in hot water after a series of infractions violating Covid-19 guidelines, such as employees not wearing masks while serving customers and lack of social distancing.
After three failed inspections between Sept. 9 and Oct. 5, the county suspended Viva’s food service permit. The county lifted suspension on Oct. 9, after the business showed proof of compliance, and sent a final warning that its permit will be permanently revoked if it breaks the rules again.
Tainatongo’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a production manager for the Rincon Research Corporation, a government contractor that develops software for the U.S. military, NASA, and the intelligence community, according to the Daily Beast.
The bio reads, ‘I am a confident decision maker and effective problem solver.’
Meanwhile, the men’s zip tie crusade comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations among children are continuing to rise as the early stages of the new school year are struck by the Delta variant.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that 200,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in the week of August 26, the second highest weekly total recorded during the pandemic.
Children also accounted for over 19,000 of the 812,000 hospitalizations recorded that week. While week-over-week totals did increase, it was at a much lower rate than the 50 percent increase from the previous week.
A group of dads captured their march to the Mesquite Elementary School’s principal office (school pictured)