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First Guilty Plea Is Set in Jan. 6 Police Assault Case

4 min read

A New Jersey gym owner is set to plead guilty on Friday to assaulting a police officer during the storming of the Capitol in January, his lawyer said, the first time someone charged with attacking the police at the riot will accept responsibility for the crime.

Under a deal with the government, the defendant, Scott Fairlamb, has agreed to accept a recommendation to be sentenced to 41 to 51 months in prison, according to his lawyer, Harley Breite. The sentencing proposal could be a guidepost for more than 100 other suspects accused of assaulting police officers on Jan. 6.

A hulking, bearded man who once competed as a mixed martial artist, Mr. Fairlamb, 44, was caught on video stalking officers outside the Capitol as they made their way through an angry mob of pro-Trump protesters. At one point, he can be heard shouting at a Metropolitan Police Department officer, “Are you an American? Act like it!” Then, unprompted, Mr. Fairlamb shoved the officer and hit him in the face.

Mr. Fairlamb planned to enter a guilty plea not only to the assault charge, but also to another felony count of obstructing an official proceeding before Congress, Mr. Breite said. Prosecutors have used the obstruction charge, in lieu of sedition or insurrection, to describe the central crime committed by hundreds of people on Jan. 6: the disruption of the certification of the Electoral College vote.

“My client, after months of critical reflection, wishes to assume responsibility for the things he has done,” Mr. Breite said. “He has learned a great deal from this incident and wishes to incorporate those lessons into the continuation of what was previously a productive and law-abiding life.”

A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment.

As the sprawling investigation of the Capitol attack enters its eighth month, prosecutors have started to reveal the legal calculus underpinning their decisions about how severely the rioters should be punished.

Of the more than 550 people charged in connection with the riot, 31 — not including Mr. Fairlamb — have pleaded guilty, most of them to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges. At least four more are scheduled to enter pleas in the next two months, a number that is certain to rise in the weeks to come.

Five defendants, as part of their pleas, have also agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, four of them in the government’s extensive investigation of the Oath Keepers militia. Prosecutors have allowed one man, Karl Dresch, of Michigan, to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor charge, dismissing a felony obstruction count he was facing.

But even as the guilty pleas continue to increase, only six Capitol rioters have been sentenced, and none have been given serious prison terms.

One woman, an Indiana grandmother, was sentenced in June to probation with no time in prison; a married couple from Virginia were ordered this week to serve brief stints of home confinement; and two men, who were kept in custody for months as their cases moved through the courts, were sentenced to time served.

Only one person, Paul Hodgkins, a Florida crane operator who admitted to breaching the Senate floor and obstructing the certification of the Electoral College vote, has been given any time in prison. But the eight-month term that Mr. Hodgkins received was far less than the 20-year maximum possible under the law.

The roughly three- to four-year sentence that prosecutors have proposed for Mr. Fairlamb is substantially lower than the seven to eight years they had quietly recommended in early negotiations with other defendants charged with assaulting the police, according to their lawyers. If the government’s suggestion in Mr. Fairlamb’s case is accepted by the presiding judge, Royce C. Lamberth, it would mark the most significant sentence prosecutors have won to date.

The issue of how severely, or leniently, to treat those charged in the riot has only grown sharper as more Capitol cases move toward resolution. One suspect, a Dallas man charged with storming the building and facing off with officers inside, has argued, for example, that prosecutors have been unduly harsh to the Capitol defendants compared to how they treated leftist activists accused of rioting last year at a federal courthouse in Portland, Ore.

By contrast, the chief federal judge in Washington, Beryl A. Howell, has questioned whether the government has been too generous with Capitol rioters. In an unusual exchange last month, Judge Howell asked prosecutors whether it was appropriate to permit those involved in “terrorizing members of Congress” to plead guilty to low-level misdemeanor charges.

Judge Howell’s questions came during a plea hearing for Jack Jesse Griffith, a Tennessee man who had admitted to a single count of illegally protesting at the Capitol. The charge carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison, and Judge Howell wondered whether that was sufficient for a man who, she said, joined a mob that broke into the building and stopped “a constitutionally mandated duty of the Congress.”

“Does the government, in agreeing to the petty offense in this case, have any concern about deterrence?” she asked.

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