The Justice Department has built out one of its most gripping and complex investigations to date from the January 6 insurrection in a court case which has gotten far less attention than others about at least five rioters who dragged and beat police with flag poles and a crutch on the US Capitol steps.
Investigators’ illustration of the violence in court contrasts notably from the rhetoric of right-wing commentators and Donald Trump himself, who have attempted to downplay anti-police violence from the former President’s supporters that day.
“Every time I look at these videos, it just chokes me up,” federal Judge Emmet Sullivan said at a recent court hearing, interrupting prosecutors as they made their case against the five Capitol rioters.
Sullivan was reacting to harrowing footage of three police officers wading into the crowd to save a pro-Trump rioter who was trampled – with the police only to be stripped of their protective gear by other members of the mob, dragged and attacked with crutches, flagpoles, batons and bare hands.
This grisly assault is at the center of a major criminal case that has become a focal point among Capitol riot court proceedings in recent weeks, though it has not received as much attention as other cases, such as the alleged bear spray assault of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, or the conspiracy cases against members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers extremist groups.
Yet in this one case, the number of defendants has grown, and so has the number of charges. At this point, five men are named in a 16-count criminal indictment.
In several court hearings in recent weeks, prosecutors have rolled out as at least four video clips, with most taken from the police officers’ body camera footage, to convince judges, including Sullivan, of the severity of the danger. As each of the defendants have been processed, some of the videos have been shown multiple times, to different judges, or to highlight the actions of each defendant. The body camera clips have not yet been viewed by the public or media, and instead have been only heard over courtroom phone lines and described by attorneys in arguments and court papers.
In all, the Justice Department says it has charged more than 100 defendants with assaulting, resisting or impeding officers, with about a third of the defendants facing charges for using a weapon. The January 6 crowd assaulted about 80 Capitol Police and 60 Metropolitan Police officers at the Capitol, according to the DOJ.
The five defendants
Prosecutors have pushed to keep the five defendants in the cop-dragging scene behind bars while awaiting trial – the harshest approach the prosecutors can take at this point, and one reserved for only the most egregious of the violent riot cases. So far, four of the five defendants have been jailed pending trial.
The five defendants are Jeffrey Sabol, a Colorado man with close ties to his family and neighbors; Peter Stager of Arkansas, who told an FBI tipster after the riot he wanted to apologize; Clayton Mullins, a church treasurer and business owner from Kentucky; Michael Lopatic of Pennsylvania, who, according to his attorneys, is disabled and was reacting in the moment after hearing a protester had been shot; and Jack Whitton, a small business owner from the Atlanta area. Stager has pleaded not guilty, but the others haven’t entered formal pleas. Mullins was released, but the others are in jail.
Lopatic appeared before the judge on Thursday afternoon, seeking to be released. Sullivan said he would rule on whether to keep Lopatic in jail at a later time.
According to court records, investigators haven’t identified or charged all of the rioters involved in the attack. One unknown person, for instance, grabbed the face of one of the officers guarding an archway entrance to the Capitol, knocking him to the ground, Sullivan noted.
The violent scene of where Boyland fell, and then the crowd lashed toward the police, has been reconstructed over several court hearings in recent weeks, in court filings and in a judge’s written retelling this week.
Records have only identified the victims of the crowd’s attack, all from Washington DC’s Metropolitan Police Department, by their initials.
In the middle of the crowd’s push toward an archway to enter the Capitol, more than three hours into the riot, Whitton allegedly jumped over a railing and used a crutch to beat an officer, identified as B.M., before grabbing him by the helmet and dragging him down the stairs, with the help of another rioter, Sabol.
The violence cascaded in less than two minutes.
“He himself was the instigator. And he himself, when he climbed over that railing with the metal crutch in his hand, is very much the reason why all these assaults were able to happen, and happened in such quick succession,” one prosecutor argued in court this month about Whitton.
The officer, B.M., lay on his stomach, surrounded, as Stager and other rioters beat him with an upside-down American flag on a flagpole and other objects, court records say and videos posted on social media show. The officer now “recalls being struck in the helmet multiple times with objects, and he believes the rioters had attempted to take him as deep into the crowd as possible,” the judge noted in a recent opinion.
A second officer, A.W., remembered being dragged into the crowd too, where rioters took his helmet, cell phone and gas mask and began beating him. Defendant Sabol allegedly took his baton, leaving the officer defenseless as he too was dragged down the steps.
The mob also hit him with mace, court records say.
A third Officer, C.M., tried to help, but the crowd attacked him as well. Lopatic allegedly grabbed C.M. by the neck.
Shortly after, some rioters attempted to form a protective circle around Officer B.M. and guide him back up the stairs. Lopatic then allegedly reached through the throng of people and ripped B.M.’s body camera off his chest.
The attack landed Officer A.W. in the hospital, where he received staples in his head to stop his bleeding. Rioters scraped up Officer B.M.’s face and bruised his shoulder, and Officer C.M. got a concussion later in the day, according to court filings.
About 20 minutes after the attack, Whitton allegedly told police officers in the line protecting the Capitol, “You’re going to die tonight.”
Later, prosecutors have noted, Whitton boasted to friends that he “fed an officer to the people,” according to court filings.