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Man held for trial in pepper spraying of Capitol officers

February 11, 2021 GMT

A federal judge has ruled there is probable cause in the case against a man accused of spraying at least two officers with an irritant during the violent siege on the Capitol in January.

During a probable cause hearing Thursday, federal prosecutors presented videos and photos of the Jan. 6 Capitol siege they say show Peter Schwartz, of Owensboro, Kentucky, wearing a distinctive orange and blue patterned jacket holding a large canister of pepper spray, spraying officers with a smaller irritant spray container and swinging a wooden baton. Prosecutors presented text messages from Schwartz’s phone where he tells a friend that he took pepper spray cannisters from officers and another where he says he had gotten their blood.

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Authorities say Schwartz was renting a home and working as a traveling welder in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, where he was arrested on Feb. 4. Schwartz has been charged with assault of officers, obstruction, knowingly and forcibly entering a restricted building and violent entry and disorderly conduct.

Schwartz’s attorney, Jay Finkelstein, argued during the hearing that none of the videos of the chaotic scenes at the Capitol clearly show Schwartz spraying officers or inside the Capitol.

“There is contradictory evidence... this is not a case where the video is definitive,” Finkelstein said.

But U.S. Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan said in her brief order that there is “no question there is probable cause” in this case.

Schwartz, who has a bench warrant in Kentucky, will be transferred to Washington, D.C., for prosecution. Finkelstein said he will ask for a release hearing once there.

FBI agent Matt Solomon testified Thursday that Schwartz was wearing what appeared to be the same jacket when he was arrested. Solomon said several tips came in identifying a suspect image released by the FBI as Schwartz, including a tip from someone who forwarded Schwartz’s Facebook page that contained posts about being at the Capitol. That tipster said Schwartz had been released from prison because of COVID-19 and had been living at a rehabilitation house in Owensboro, according to court documents.

Agents also examined Schwartz’s phone. Solomon said it contained texts from Schwartz telling another person he had briefly been inside the Capitol, saying he “threw the first chair” and started things, saying he had taken pepper spray from officers at the Capitol, distributed it and used it on other officers, and saying that he had gotten their blood.

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The texts also contained a photo of what agents believe is Schwartz’s hand holding a pull ring from a irritant spray container. One of the texts from Schwartz said he should be in federal prison for his acts of patriotism but God had been looking over him and his wife.

Schwartz appeared from the Beaver County detention facility on a video line. He said only a few words during the hearing. Prosecutors had updated their request for detention earlier this week, adding Schwartz’s previous convictions in Kentucky including resisting arrest, assault with a deadly weapon and being a felon in possession of a firearm as reasons they believed he should remain in custody.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in the D.C. District rejected an appeal from federal prosecutors seeking to keep Rachel Powell in custody while she awaits trial on charges stemming from the Capitol siege. Judge Lenihan had cleared Powell, who has been charged with obstruction, violent entry into the Capitol and other counts, to be released to home detention earlier this week.

Prosecutors allege the Sandy Lake mother of eight is seen in videos directing other rioters on how to navigate the Capitol, including the layout of windows that needed to be broken to gain access to different areas.