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Monday, October 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Suspect in social media threats against Lewis and Clark out of jail as parents post $100,000 cash bond; attorney claims no evidence of wrongdoing

UPDATED: Fri., March 1, 2019, 7:46 a.m.

Lewis and Clark High School cyberthreat suspect Ryan Lee appears in Spokane County Superior Court last week. (Will Campbell / The Spokesman-Review)
Lewis and Clark High School cyberthreat suspect Ryan Lee appears in Spokane County Superior Court last week. (Will Campbell / The Spokesman-Review)

The former Lewis and Clark High School student accused of making multiple threats against students online is back out of jail. His attorney says police arrested the wrong guy.

For the second time in less than a year, Ryan Lee, 18, has bailed out of the Spokane County Jail on a bond of $100,000. The most recent payment came Feb. 8 – about a week after Lee was arrested in connection with allegedly posting a fresh set of threats against his former high school.

Lee’s family posted the bail after his attorney, Derek Reid, successfully petitioned the court to lower the amount from $1 million. Reached by phone Wednesday, Reid said his client hasn’t committed the crime, and police don’t have the evidence to show he did.

“He’s the absolutely nicest person in this world,” Reid said. “It’s just not consistent with this behavior.”

Lee was first charged with felony harassment and communicating with a minor for immoral purposes last year after his alleged threats caused widespread panic within the school district. A day after the threats were made public by a school alert, more than half of the student body elected to stay home.

Charging documents say Lee sent sexually explicit messages and pornography to a girl at the school from May 26 to May 29 using the Instagram account steven_smith_4. Messages sent to other students also said he was “going to shoot up” Lewis and Clark.

Police were able to track the threat to Lee’s family home on the 200 block of West Sumner Avenue on the South Hill. Officers arrested him May 30.

According to police, Lee at first denied having the Instagram account and denied sending any messages to anyone referencing a school shooting. During a second interview, he admitted to creating the account and sending the messages and images to the 15-year-old girls, court records say.

Lee told investigators he didn’t own or have access to firearms and denied he was “going to actually go and shoot anyone or go to Lewis and Clark to commit a school shooting,” according to court records.

However, Reid said when the Lees agreed to talk to police in person, Ryan Lee didn’t confess to a crime, nor did he tell police he created Instagram accounts.

Reid said that after serving multiple search warrants on their home and seizing iPads, computers and phones, police haven’t been able to find any evidence that Lee created the suspected Instagram account.

The only thing linking Lee to the crime, Reid said, is the IP address – which according to court records and Reid, only shows up 10 out of the 43 times the steven_smith_4 account was accessed from May 25 to 29.

“We believe that somebody was able to spoof the IP address,” Reid said. “That’s the only connection (police) have to the Lee home.”

Five months after Lee’s first arrest and subsequent release on a $100,000 bond in June, Lewis and Clark underwent another set of threats in November, when an Instagram account by the name of Steven_Smith__4 – with one extra underscore between “Smith” and “4” – made similar statements threatening violence.

“I still cant (sic) believe that I did not get caught yet,” the account posted, with a claim that an Asian or Latino student had been mistakenly arrested for last school year’s threats.

No arrests were made in connection with the second incident. Lee’s release conditions preclude him from having access to the internet or interacting with people younger than 18. On Feb. 8, according to court records, the Lees said they don’t intend to replace an internet router that was seized as evidence.

A third round of threats surfaced on Jan. 29, this time by an account called dan_theman_n. Shortly after they were posted on Instagram, police served a search warrant on Lee’s residence. He was arrested Jan. 30.

Lee’s father is Lewis Lee, a patent lawyer who founded the Lee & Hayes intellectual property law firm in the 1990s. A call to the firm Wednesday suggested he is no longer involved with the business.

Reid said he is “confident” investigators wouldn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing on those devices. He plans to hire an expert who can help identify how and if the Lee family’s IP address was wrongly linked to the accounts, whether it was through a virtual proxy network or otherwise.

“SPD wants this closed,” he said. “They want the community to think they have the right guy. And the evidence doesn’t support that.”

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