State prosecutors have decided not to pursue criminal charges against a Floral City man who purportedly said late last month in court and in jail he was going to attack a local primary school.
Ryan Scott Connell threatened to “shoot up” Inverness Primary School on July 31 following a hearing in Mental Health Court as bailiffs were placing the 34-year-old into custody for testing positive for drugs, according to Assistant State Attorney Blake Shore and court records.
Connell has been jailed since then for violating his probation on an unrelated offense, and a judge denied Connell's bond.
Students returned to school Aug. 12.
“We want to reassure the community that the subject is in custody and is not an immediate threat,” Citrus County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Lee Carey said in an email late Thursday, adding his agency is still investigating the incident.
In an Aug. 7 email, the sheriff's office had asked Shore's office to investigate whether Connell could be charged under state law forbidding "written threats to kill" or making a false bomb threat, both felonies.
In an email Thursday responding to sheriff’s-office officials, Shore said Connell’s threats don’t meet the criteria needed to charge him under either of those statutes, particularly because Connell's threats were not written, knowingly false, or posted on social media.
Three sheriff’s-office deputies overheard Connell’s comments as they were incarcerating him, according to the email.
Shore also stated in the email that Connell made similar threats in two recorded phone calls placed from the jail. Under Florida law, those calls are not public record; however, copies of them were provided to the Chronicle Friday afternoon.
In the calls, placed July 31 and Aug. 1, Connell can be heard arguing with a man he identifies as his father about his case.
In the July 31 call, Connell tells the man that if sent to prison, "When I come out, I'm (expletive) gettin' my revenge," and later that "I'm killin' their kids when I get the (expletive) out and that (expletive)'s really (expletive) happening."
In the Aug. 1 call, after being told by the man that prison might be what he needs, Connell says, "Yeah, when I get the (expletive) out, I'm going to shoot the (expletive) out of IPS then, there." During that call, Connell also threatens violence against the man should he be sent to prison.
It is not clear from the conversation who Connell is referring to in the calls.
Shore said that Connell told sheriff's-office detectives his comments were made in anger over the result of his latest hearing, and that he did not intend to follow through with the threats.
“The purpose of this statute is to address people making threats like this using social media," Shore said of the written-threats statute. "We most (sic) show that Connell made a record, that it contained a threat, and that he posted or transmitted the record in a manner that allowed someone else to view it.
"The defendant has not done anything to make, post or transmit that record to allow other people to view it.”
According to Shore, the phone calls placed from the jail don't meet those critera.
Regarding the bomb-threat statute, Shore wrote: "The statute and jury instructions require that we be able to show that the report made from the defendant was false and second that his intent was to deceive or mislead people. ... This statute does not apply to threats of future acts. Here, since his statements would be concerning future conduct they fail to meet this statute."
Connell has a status hearing on his probation violation scheduled for Aug. 28 in felony court in front of Circuit Court Judge Richard “Ric” Howard, court documents show.
Shore noted in his email the State Attorney’s Office (SAO) will bring Connell’s comments to the judge’s attention when it argues for an “appropriate sentence.”
“My office does understand the concern based on Connell’s comments,” he said. “However, we will not be able to proceed on any new charges as Connell’s actions would not meet the necessary elements.”
News of Connell’s threat broke Thursday evening when the Citrus County School District posted about the State Attorney's Office's decision on its Facebook page. Connell was also trespassed from school properties, the district announced.
Automatic phone calls that day also alerted families of Inverness Primary School students, and to attendees of Citrus High School, which is close to the elementary school.
District spokeswoman Lindsay Blair said Friday that School Safety Specialist Chief Buddy Grant learned about Connell’s actions on July 31.
“But at that time, we hardly had any information and it was still an ongoing open and active investigation with the sheriff’s office,” Blair said. “We let them finish up their investigation and take the time to present it to the SAO.”
Following the State Attorney’s Office’s decision on Thursday not to file new charges against Connell, the district chose to send out a notification that day.
“We thought it was our due diligence to let parents know that there’s this person out there,” Blair said Friday. "Even though this man is in jail, and could potentially stay in jail, we wanted to make sure our parents were armed with this important information."
At Connell’s court appearance last March for allegedly violating his drug-offender probation conditions for battering a corrections officers in July 2017, Howard referred him to Mental Health Court, court records show.
Mental Health Court is an alternative court program that offers eligible defendants weekslong treatments and other stipulations, which, if completed, can result in dropped charges.
On the afternoon of July 31, Mental Health Court and County Judge Mark Yerman ordered Connell into custody and returned him to Howard’s criminal docket after Connell tested positive for codeine, violating the program’s terms, court documents state.
While Connell was in the courtroom holding cell, he began to yell before kicking his cell's window, cracking it and causing roughly $1,170 in damages, according to Connell’s arrest report.
Along with jailing Connell for his failed drug test, deputies also charged him with a third-degree felony count of criminal mischief for damaging the holding cell, which in turn violated Connell’s probation on Aug. 14, arrest reports state.
Prosecutors later amended Connell's criminal mischief charge to a misdemeanor offense because the value of damages was under $1,000.