Assault charges have been filed against a 47-year-old man who accosted, then grabbed the phone and shirt of a fellow Eastern Carver County school board meeting attendee following the district's decision to extend masking requirements for students amid rising COVID-19 cases.
Thomas W. Kahlbaugh, of Carver, was charged last week in Carver County District Court with two misdemeanors, fifth-degree assault and disorderly conduct in connection with the incident in Chaska on Sept. 27 with mask-wearing Jonas Sjoberg.
Kahlbaugh was charged by summons and is due to appear in court Nov. 15. Court records do not list an attorney for him. Messages were left with Kahlbaugh on Monday seeking a response to the allegations.
Sjoberg told the Star Tribune the next day that he attended the meeting to let board members know that not everyone in the community was against a mask requirement. His daughter attends a private school, but he said he wanted to give a comment as a Chaska resident. He did so wearing a mask before he was confronted by Kahlbaugh. The 45 minutes of comments were largely dominated by those against masks. It was captured on the meeting video that remains available on the school district website.
According to the criminal complaint:
After Sjoberg spoke and sat down, Kahlbaugh rolled his chair a few feet to Sjoberg "so he was seated immediately in front ... face to face," the complaint read. One witness said Kahlbaugh appeared "to be visibly upset and made aggressive comments regarding [Sjoberg's] statement to the board," the complaint continued.
As the public comment portion of the meeting was wrapping up, Sjoberg took a cellphone photo of Kahlbaugh with the intention of notifying the school board of what he believed to be Kahlbaugh's effort to intimidate community members from speaking.
Kahlbaugh's wife approached from behind and demanded that Sjoberg delete the photo. A seated Kahlbaugh then grabbed Sjoberg's cellphone from his hand, grabbed Sjoberg's shirt and rolled backward in his chair "dragging [Sjoberg] part way across the room," the charges read. Kahlbaugh threw Sjoberg's cellphone to the floor before two people got between the men.
Sjoberg's shirt was ripped, a button was broken off, and "he may have a scratch on his pectoral," according to the charges.
Now that charges have been filed, Sjoberg said in a follow-up interview Monday that "I would think that an adult, with this situation, would be so embarrassed, and that itself is punishment itself."
However, he continued, "I don't know what's moral or not moral about crime and punishment. ... I trust that [the prosecution] has made the right call in submitting this. I am just going to sit back and see what happens."
The incident is the latest in a series of school board meeting interruptions — both locally and nationwide — caused by irate and even violent parents arguing over COVID-19 protocols, critical race theory and social studies standards. Board members have also been targeted with threats and other forms of harassment, in person and online.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482