Police arrested a 40-year-old Arizona dad after he stormed into an elementary school principal’s office with a friend wielding plastic handcuffs, insisting the administration broke the law by asking his child and six others to wear a mask and quarantine after being in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
“I can tell you the end result of that incident was we did make one arrest for trespassing,” Sgt. Richard Gradillas of the Tucson, Arizona, Police Department told The Daily Beast, identifying the dad arrested as Rishi Rambaran.
Two men accompanied Rambaran on Thursday as he ambushed Principal Diane Vargo while she sat with another educator at the Mesquite Elementary School in Tucson. One of the men, Kelly Walker, livestreamed the incident on his Instagram, explaining that Rambaran, who is also known as “Reese,” had called him and asked him to be there in case he needed backup.
The third man, who has not been identified, stood in the doorway of Vargo’s office with a fistful of “law enforcement-grade” zip ties at the ready—as the trio was prepared to make a citizen’s arrest, Walker said. (The livestream video has since been deleted.)
“When this kind of coercion and bullying is perpetrated by school administrators, breaking the law, a citizen’s arrest is an option worth looking into,” Walker wrote on Facebook.
Gradillas told The Daily Beast that in his 14 years on the force, he’s “never seen a citizen’s arrest.”
The Vail School District’s COVID policy follows public health guidance issued by Pima County, which requires students to quarantine at home for at least a week after exposure. The school in fact was abiding by Pima’s rules, and had not violated any laws by asking the students to mask up or quarantine.
Walker, a local marketing strategist and copywriter, co-owns a coffee shop in Tucson with his wife and in-laws. The shop, which describes itself as “Tucson’s hub of Freedom and delicious coffee,” recently hosted a meet-and-greet with far-right author and convicted felon Dinesh D’Souza. Next month, Walker, who compared Thursday’s elementary school dust-up to Rosa Parks’ struggle for equal rights, will be welcoming Matthew Lohmeier, a disgraced Space Force lieutenant colonel who was relieved of his post in May over a self-published book warning of an impending “white genocide,” as well as a “neo-Marxist agenda” within the military “designed to patiently and methodically overthrow the US government and replace it with a communist dictatorship.”
The surreal event at Mesquite Elementary began with a message from Rambaran, Walker said in a video he streamed while driving over to meet him.
“I’m headed to Mesquite Elementary School right now, where a friend just notified me and some others that his son was indiscriminately taken to the office to be quarantined because supposedly someone had decided he but not other kids in this classroom were exposed to COVID,” said Walker, a father of five who reportedly homeschools his own children. “And they shoved a mask on his face, wouldn’t let him call his parents, and now his dad is there… [T]he school is blatantly breaking the law, blatantly going against the will of the people. I think this community has expressed that they’re not going to have this kind of bullying of our kids, these kinds of scare tactics.”
In reality, administrators at Mesquite Elementary had reported a positive COVID case to the Pima County Health Department, which requires schools to provide the names of anyone that has been exposed to someone testing positive for the virus.
Walker said he was prepared to “raise hell,” and insisted the school couldn’t take the law “into their own hands” by instructing a student to quarantine.
Once inside Vargo’s office, the principal listened patiently as Rambaran and Walker attempted to browbeat her into reversing the quarantine order. In a since-deleted video shot by Walker, Rambaran can be seen calling the police and asking them to arrest Vargo. If Rambaran’s child wasn’t allowed back into the classroom immediately, the group said they were prepared to execute a citizen’s arrest.
Vargo, who did not respond to a request for comment, then asked the three to leave the premises. When they refused, Vargo walked out and called the police. The trio departed the scene before cops arrived.
Rambaran was taken into custody about two hours after the fracas, and was later released, according to Gradillas. In a follow-up video recorded by Walker and posted to his coffee shop’s Instagram page, Rambaran complains, “They portrayed me to be this monster… They cried and whined about how I refused to leave,” saying to Walker that the police are now “after you and the other party” that was there.
The police showed up at Walker’s coffee shop after the incident, but he ducked them and wrote on Instagram, “Come back with a warrant.” Gradillas confirmed to The Daily Beast that more arrests “could be made.”
Walker, perhaps not surprisingly, sees things somewhat differently.
“No one ‘planned’ to make an arrest,” Walker wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “No one was ‘threatened.’ The father asked the officer to respond, come to the school, and arrest the administration because they were currently breaking the law by forcing kids to put on masks (meanwhile the administrators were NOT wearing masks themselves). The officer asked the father to come down to the police station and file the report. The father asked for written documentation of why they pulled his son, and once he received that, he left. The police only showed up at the school 2 hours after that.”
Rambaran could not be reached for comment. Walker did not respond when asked if he could provide contact info for him.
To some, Walker is simply a pest. To others, he’s someone “making a stand.” He makes no secret of his extreme views, and uses his coffee house’s blog as a platform to promulgate them, including the incorrect belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen by anti-Trump Democrats.
“The 2020 election was demonstrably fraudulent; treasonous usurpers are now in office from the White House on down,” Walker wrote in July. “As a result, the American people have been fettered with egregious violations of our civil rights without recourse or restoration. It is past time to declare our Independence as a Nation of sovereign Free People and notify this governing oligarchy that they no longer have the consent of the Governed.”
Walker also claims to believe that the U.S. is “on a sure and certain path to democide,” as he wrote in late August, comparing government mask mandates and vaccine guidance to the “Holocaust in Germany, the Warsaw Ghetto genocide, the murder of millions of Russians and Chinese under Communist regimes, the Killing Fields of Cambodia.”
Anti-government sentiment aside, Walker asked for—and received—a PPP loan in May 2020 for nearly $13,000. It was fully forgiven by the Small Business Administration, according to ProPublica’s PPP tracker.
Last September, Walker was arrested at a Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting for refusing to stop using foul language. In October, after three failed inspections for ignoring Pima’s masking and social distancing requirements, Walker’s coffee house was shut down by county health inspectors. When it reopened, Walker posted a picture of white supremacist meme Pepe the Frog on Facebook, which he captioned: “Sales Person [sic] of the Month.” Area residents who complained got doxxed.
“I’m working so very hard to wake people up,” Walker posted on social media last week.
On Monday, Walker posted a tribute to a friend, father, and anti-masker who recently succumbed to COVID. The man was a Border Patrol agent and father of three named Chad McBroom.
The Vail Unified School District, which includes Mesquite Elementary School, has endured no shortage of rowdy interactions with parents who reject public health guidelines under the guise of “freedom.” In April, police had to be called to maintain order when dozens of unmasked parents forced their way into a school board meeting and refused to leave.
The issue closely mirrors similar situations taking place across the country. In Pennsylvania, a dispute over masking requirements for elementary school students recently resulted in death threats that led one board member to quit. A California parent allegedly assaulted his daughter’s teacher last month after seeing their child walking out of the school building in a face covering. In late August, a 50-year-old Florida man was arrested and charged with aggravated child abuse after a dispute over masking with a female high school student turned physical. Teachers have had their masks ripped off by angry parents, and have been the targets of relentless verbal abuse.
According to official data, there is currently one active COVID case at Mesquite Elementary School. Across the entire district, 47 students and eight staff were positive for the virus as of Aug. 29. The district said it will be sending a letter to parents of Mesquite Elementary students about Thursday’s incident.