Minnesota's Jan. 6 defendants include those charged with fighting police
A southern Minnesota man faces sentencing in April after admitting this week that he was part of a mob that pushed through a line of police at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Daniel Johnson was the second Minnesotan convicted in the attack. Cases against a half dozen others are still pending.
Appearing by video before a Washington, D.C. federal judge, Daniel Eugene Johnson of Austin, Minn., pleaded guilty to obstructing police during a civil disorder. He’s not accused of injuring officers, but Johnson’s guilty plea makes him the first Minnesota resident convicted of a felony in connection with the riot as Congress met to certify President Joe Biden’s election.
During a half-hour hearing Tuesday, the 29-year-old admitted entering the U.S. Capitol through a broken window around 2:30 that afternoon. A bit later, near the east side of the rotunda, Johnson moved to the leading edge of a mob. They overran police who were guarding a door and let more rioters into the building.
Video of the scene, uploaded to the social media site Parler, is part of an interactive timeline that ProPublica published soon after the attack.
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Johnson’s crime carries a maximum prison term of five years. But he’s not expected to receive more than six months because until Tuesday, he had a clean criminal record.
Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment, and his attorney did not return phone or email messages.
At the hearing, Johnson’s father, Daryl Johnson, 51, of St. Ansgar, Iowa, sat alongside his son and pleaded guilty to the same charge.
In the year since some of former President Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters forced members of Congress into hiding during violence that injured more than 100 police officers and left five dead, the U.S. Justice Department has charged more than 725 people from across the country, in what’s become the largest prosecution in American history.
Nearly a quarter have pleaded guilty, mostly to misdemeanors. Among them is Jordan Kenneth Stotts — a landscaper from Moorhead, Minn. In November, a judge sentenced Stotts, 32, to 60 days home confinement for illegally picketing in the Capitol rotunda.
Cases against six other Minnesotans move forward
Nearly 90 minutes after Johnson charged at police, prosecutors say 40-year-old Victoria Charity White of Rochester, Minn., tried to grab an officer’s riot shield. At an entrance tunnel on the opposite side of the building, White also allegedly helped hoist up a fellow rioter who went on to attack officers. White faces the same felony charge of obstructing police; she did not return a call for comment.
Attorney Joe McBride disputes prosecutors’ narrative. He said White was simply exercising her First Amendment rights and can be seen on video stopping a group of people from destroying property. McBride told MPR News that an officer hit White repeatedly with a baton after she was pushed into the tunnel.
“She was egregiously abused for wearing a MAGA hat. That is the only reason that we can come up with why she was targeted by this officer, why she was brutalized by this officer,” McBride said.
Court documents say officers tried to push White back with their shields and “fend her off with a baton.” Not only is White fighting the charges, McBride said, but she also plans to sue Capitol Police for using excessive force.
Others are facing accusations of more serious violence. Brian Christopher Mock of Minneapolis is the only Minnesota defendant from the U.S. Capitol riot who remains jailed. Mock, 42, pleaded not guilty to multiple felonies including assaulting police. Prosecutors say Mock shoved two officers to the ground and kicked one.
His attorney declined to comment. At a hearing in September, Mock told a judge that police, prosecutors, and the FBI “lied and colluded to create evidence." Court documents indicate otherwise, and include body camera photos that illustrate the government’s allegations.
Minnesotans charged include members of a Lindstrom family
The other four Minnesotans charged in the insurrection are members of a family from Lindstrom, Minn. — northeast of the Twin Cities. Jonah Elijah Westbury, 26, and his 62-year-old father, Robert, each face misdemeanor counts.
Isaac Westbury, 19, and Aaron James, 35, are charged with felonies, including taking a police shield and using it to attack officers, a criminal offense that carries a maximum 20-year prison term.
They’ve all pleaded not guilty.
The Westburys’ attorney, John Pierce of Los Angeles, did not respond to requests for comment. A man who did not identify himself ordered an MPR News reporter off the Westbury’s property and refused to comment, saying he was tired of media coming there.
Rosemarie Westbury, who identifies herself on a crowdfunding site as the wife of Robert and mother of the other three, has not been charged in the case. Last month, in an interview with the far-right website Red Voice Media, she called the arrest of her husband and sons an act of tyranny, and said the family went to the Capitol to exercise their First Amendment rights and support Trump.
Longer sentences expected
No Jan. 6 defendants have gone on trial. All of the cases concluded so far have been resolved with guilty pleas. Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who is a former federal prosecutor, said the Justice Department is putting the misdemeanors to bed before dealing with more serious cases.
The longest prison sentence handed down so far was 63 months for Robert S. Palmer, a Florida man who admitted assaulting police. Levenson said much longer terms are possible, particularly for people accused of violent crimes and defendants who opt for jury trials.
“I think the felony pleas that you’re seeing now are the people who’ve said ‘look, I’m not fighting this, and I want to get whatever benefit I can get by pleading guilty.’ So even though we’ve seen a sentence up to five years, for those who do not cooperate and are found guilty, you could see twice that much,” Levenson said.
Because of the size and scope of the prosecution effort, Levenson said resolving all the cases will likely take years. And the Justice Department hopes to bring even more indictments.
A year after the attack on a cornerstone of American democracy, the FBI is asking for the public’s help to identify another 350 people suspected of violence at the Capitol, including many who attacked police.