Two men who packed guns while at Christmas pageant on behalf of former Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila sentenced to year of probation
In a Green Bay Press-Gazette interview, Gbaja-Biamila revealed himself to be a passionate speaker who sees himself as a literal interpreter of the Bible and of the U.S. Constitution. Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY — It was a different style of court appearance Wednesday for two men accused of packing pistols and refusing to leave a children’s Christmas pageant they attended on behalf of former Green Bay Packers player Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.
In earlier Brown County court appearances, Jordan Salmi, 25, and Ryan Desmith, 22, disrupted proceedings, declined to cooperate with court officers, and generally baffled participants with a variety of unusual terms and language they insisted on using.
Their previous behavior resulted in one of them getting kicked out of a bail hearing and the other getting charged with contempt of court, as they refused to identify themselves as anything other than “I, man,” or “state of man,” seemed unwilling to acknowledge the authority of the court, and refused to sign documents or enter pleas. The language and behavior was consistent with obstructive strategies recommended by the “sovereign citizen” movement, the members of which claim to believe that state court systems have no jurisdiction over them, experts say.
Both were charged with carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and obstructing police. The latter two charges were dismissed against both men in Wednesday's proceedings.
On Wednesday, Desmith and Salmi appeared via consecutive teleconferences for sentencing before Brown County Circuit Judge Beau Liegeois. Both men were impeccably polite, calling Liegeois “sir” throughout the hearings. The only interruptions to the proceedings were due to technical difficulties with the Zoom connection.
The only extraordinary terminology the two men insisted on was that neither were “pleading no contest” but, rather, “making admission of no contest,” a distinction that Liegeois shrugged off.
Brown County Assistant District Attorney Wendy Lemkuil told Liegeois she had previously been put off by the men’s behavior, that “they seemed very argumentative and difficult.” But as she became more involved in the case and got to meet both defendants one-on-one, she felt that a lot of their behavior was due to their not understanding the legal system.
“I just want to say, Mr. Liegeois, in no way did I try to be disrespectful, and if it came off that way, it was never my intention,” Salmi told the judge Wednesday. “It’s stressful coming into a room not knowing how things work.”
“My intent was to get a better understanding of the system and rights and common law, but I see that’s not how you do things anymore,” Desmith told the judge.
Lemkuil said discussions with the two as well as with victims in the case persuaded her that Salmi and Desmith had gotten “caught in the crossfire” in a dispute between Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Ron Young, the headmaster of Providence Academy.
Students of the private Christian school were putting on a Christmas pageant Dec. 17 at the Assembly of God Church when Salmi and Desmith joined the audience, then declined to leave when Young asked them to, court records say.
Young called police and told them both men likely were armed. When police arrived, Salmi and Desmith continued to refuse to leave and were arrested. Both men were found to be carrying firearms.
Gbaja-Biamila was also in the church parking lot when Salmi and Desmith were arrested, but left when ordered to do so.
Gbaja-Biamila later explained three of his children were performing in the pageant against his authority, and that he had asked Salmi and Desmith to make a video recording of their participation, so that he could use it as proof in his continued disputes with Young and Gbaja-Biamila’s ex-wife. He explained that recognizing Christmas goes against his religious beliefs and that he planned to use proof of his children’s participation so he could charge Young for unauthorized use of his “property.”
Gbaja-Biamila showed up at the pageant but was not arrested and left when told to do so.
Desmith said in court Wednesday that he and Salmi had been on friendly terms with Young previously “and going there didn’t seem like a problem at the time. I personally don’t believe I’ve done anything wrong, but since this situation is here I’m going to have to take responsibility for it.”
Liegeois followed Lemkuil’s sentencing recommendation and ordered both men to spend a year on probation, to write letters of apology to the police, Young, and Providence Academy, and to possess no firearms for the year that they are on probation.
If they adhere to the conditions and successfully complete their probation terms, the records will be expunged, Liegeois ordered.