Capitol rioters enter 1st guilty pleas to assaulting police
A New Jersey gym owner and a Washington state man on Friday became the first people charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol to plead guilty to assaulting a law enforcement officer during the deadly siege.
The pair of plea deals with federal prosecutors could be a benchmark for dozens of other cases in which Capitol rioters are charged with attacking police as part of an effort to halt the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Both defendants face more than three years in prison if a judge adheres to estimated sentencing guidelines spelled out in the plea agreements.
The estimated sentencing guidelines for Scott Kevin Fairlamb range from about 3 1/2 to 4 1/4 years in prison. But the judge isn’t bound by that recommendation when he sentences Fairlamb, a 44-year-old former mixed martial arts fighter who owned Fairlamb Fit gym in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. Fairlamb’s lawyer and prosecutors can seek a sentence above or below those guidelines.
The sentencing guidelines in Devlyn Thompson’s plea deal recommend a slightly higher sentence than Fairlamb, ranging from less than four years to 4 3/4 years in prison. After Fairlamb’s hearing, Thompson, 28, of Puyallup, Washington, pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer with a dangerous weapon, a baton.
The same judge who accepted Fairlamb’s guilty plea ordered Thompson to be jailed in Seattle. Thompson had been free since his participation in the Capitol riot.
The pleas come less than two weeks after a group of police officers testified at a congressional hearing about their harrowing confrontations with the mob of insurrectionists. Five officers who were at the Capitol that day have died, four of them by suicide. The Justice Department has said that rioters assaulted approximately 140 police officers on Jan. 6. About 80 of them were U.S. Capitol Police officers and about 60 were from the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.
Fairlamb, whose brother is a U.S. Secret Service agent, was one of the first people to breach the Capitol after other rioters smashed windows using riot shields and kicked out a locked door, according to federal prosecutors. After leaving the building, Fairlamb harassed a line of police officers, shouting in their faces and blocking their progress through the mob, prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
A video showed him holding a collapsible baton and shouting, “What (do) patriots do? We f——— disarm them and then we storm the f——— Capitol!”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tejpal Chawla said Thompson was on the front lines of the most violent clashes that day, in a tunnel at the Capitol.
“This is one of the largest domestic terrorism events in U.S. history, where a group of individuals attacked the citadel of our constitutional democracy in an effort to overthrow the valid election results of the president of the United States,” Chawla said.
Thomas Durkin, one of Thompson’s attorneys, said Jan. 6 was a “horrible, horrible event” but disputed the prosecutor’s characterization of the attack.
“I think it’s dangerous to start throwing around ‘domestic terrorism’ in circumstances like this,” he said.
U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth set a sentencing date of Sept. 27 for both Thompson and Fairlamb, who has been jailed since his Jan. 22 arrest at his home in Stockholm, New Jersey.
Thompson wasn’t arrested after he was charged last month with one count of assaulting a Metropolitan Police officer. His attorneys said in a court filing that he has autism spectrum disorder.
Fairlamb’s lawyer, Harley Breite, said he will ask the judge for a sentence below the government’s recommended guidelines.
Fairlamb’s involvement in the riot has “eviscerated large parts of his life,” his attorney said.
“He has lost his business. The mortgage on his home where he lives with his wife is in peril. And he has been publicly disgraced,” Breite said during an interview after Friday’s remote hearing.
Breite said his client wanted to “pay the price for what he had done and then move on with his life.”
“It wasn’t so much about the deal. It was about his desire to own up to what he had done, make himself a better person for the future and move on,” the lawyer added.
Fairlamb pleaded guilty to two counts, obstruction of an official proceeding and assaulting a Metropolitan Police Department officer. The counts carry a maximum of more than 20 years in prison.
Another video captured Fairlamb shoving and punching a police officer in the head after he left the Capitol, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit.
“As a former MMA fighter, the defendant was well aware of the injury he could have inflicted on (the officer),” prosecutors wrote. “His actions and words on that day all indicate a specific intent to obstruct a congressional proceeding through fear, intimidation, and violence, including violence against uniformed police officers.”
Fairlamb’s brother was one of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect former first lady Michelle Obama, Breite said.
Fairlamb’s social media accounts indicated that he subscribed to the QAnon conspiracy theory and promoted a bogus claim that former President Donald Trump would become the first president of “the new Republic” on March 4, prosecutors wrote. QAnon has centered on the baseless belief that Trump was fighting against a cabal of Satan-worshipping, child sex trafficking cannibals, including “deep state” enemies, prominent Democrats and Hollywood elites.
The rioters believed Trump’s lies that he was robbed of a second term because of massive voter fraud nationwide. In fact, claims of massive fraud have been refuted by numerous judges, state election officials and even Trump’s own administration.
On July 27, a House panel investigating the deadly riot heard emotional testimony from four police officers who tried to defend the Capitol when the mob of Trump supporters stormed the building.
At least nine people who were at the Capitol on Jan. 6 died during or after the rioting, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who collapsed after he was sprayed by rioters with a chemical irritant. Four other police officers have died by suicide, including two Metropolitan Police officers who were found dead within the past month.
Police shot and killed a woman, Ashli Babbitt, who was part of a group of people trying to beat down the doors of the House chamber. Three other Trump supporters who died had suffered medical emergencies.
More than 560 people have been charged with federal crimes, and authorities are still searching for hundreds more. At least 165 defendants have been charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers or Capitol employees, including more than 50 people charged with using a deadly or dangerous weapon or causing serious bodily injury to an officer, the Justice Department said in July.
Fairlamb and Thompson are at least the 32nd and 33rd defendants to plead guilty. Most of the others have pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges, including parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.