One year later: Where cases stand against 8 Utahns charged in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol siege
SALT LAKE CITY – One Utahn told authorities he was there as a journalist, but he egged on the mob overtaking the U.S. Capitol one year ago before filming the death of a woman shot by police, prosecutors say.
Another tapped out texts from inside the building where lawmakers scurried to hide, boasting that “we stormed the Capitol!” according to police.
A third, prosecutors say, wrestled over a barricade with police before throwing the metal fence toward officers.
They’re among the eight Utahns charged in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 – a former police officer, a clothing designer and a real estate agent among them. They’re a tiny share of the roughly 700 people arrested nationally in the siege. But that hasn’t stopped two of the defendants from the Beehive State from drawing significant national attention.
Authorities confiscated about $90,000 from John Earl Sullivan, money he brought in by selling footage of Ashli Babbit being fatally shot by Capitol police during the siege, prosecutors say. They contend he illegally obtained the footage.
Sullivan, 27, has pleaded not guilty to charges including disorderly conduct, obstructing an official proceeding and giving false statements to agents. His video of a woman fatally shot by police would later make its way around the world in broadcasts and online.
Sullivan said he was an independent journalist, but actually urged others to “burn” the building and get violent, court documents say. He was incorrectly labeled an Antifa activist by Trump ally Rudy Giuliani and others. Sullivan is the founder of a protest group, Insurgence USA.
Another Utahn, Landon Kenneth Copeland, 44, drew widespread attention when he launched into an expletive-laden rant during a remote court hearing in May in Washington, D.C.
The judge in his case ordered a mental health review and found he is competent to face charges that he grabbed a riot shield during the Capitol attack, shoved another crowd member into the police line and threw a “metal bike rack fence barricade” toward officers after a tug-of-war over the bike rack.
An attorney for Copeland has said he is an Iraq War veteran who has severe PTSD. Copeland is being held in the Washington County Jail, according to jail records.
Just one of the eight Utahns has a conviction on the books, mirroring the national rate. About 150 defendants have pleaded guilty, just about 20% of the total.
But the court cases may not have the effect that federal prosecutors hope.
An expert on extremism told KSL he does not believe that any justice meted out will deter groups from carrying out similar attacks in the future. That’s because they’re receiving encouragement from powerful politicians, said University of Utah professor Amos Guiora.
“I don’t think that punishing, incarcerating these eight and others like them will have real significance. It’ll have significance for them, for their lives, but the significance won’t go beyond that,” said Guiora.
He says more concerning than the actions of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol is what he calls complicity by some members of Congress, and those who continue to push baseless claims of widespread election fraud.
“There is this lockstep complicity,” Guiora said, pointing to any member of Congress who has not publicly condemned false election claims.
He was horrified by the images he saw on TV that day, but the aftermath has been more troubling, he said. Neither Trump nor any allies have been criminally charged for inciting the mob, Guiora noted.
In lower-profile cases, three Utah defendants are working on a potential plea agreement with prosecutors, according to court filings.
Janet West Buhler, 57, a clothing designer from Kaysville; Michael Lee Hardin, 50, a former police officer also from Kaysville, and Willard Jake Peart, a realtor of Toquerville, each have a “plea agreement” hearing scheduled for some time this month.
Hardin, a former Salt Lake City police officer, is accused of sending texts saying, “we stormed the Capitol!” and calling Donald Trump “the rightful president.”
Authorities say Buhler, a clothing designer, is Hardin’s stepmother-in-law. A relative’s coworker helped the FBI identify her inside the Capitol that day.
Peart, 40, is accused of telling FBI agents in an interview that he attended the Trump rally and walked to the Capitol and didn’t intending to go inside but changed his mind once he saw others doing so. In the Capitol, he wrapped himself in a Trump flag, prosecutors say, and joined rioters in chanting.
The only Utahn with a conviction on the books is Jacob Kyle Wiedrich, 24. He pleaded guilty to demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol, court records show. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to ask a judge to throw out the remaining charges, court documents show. He faces up to six months behind bars and up to a $5,000 fine when he is sentenced on Jan. 19.
Wiedrich admitted to entering the building without permission and yelling at officers, court records show, posting video on Snapchat where he says, “this is our (expletive) house!” and “We ride for Trump! We die for Trump!”
Two more Utahns, Brady Knowlton, 41, of Washington County, and Gary Wilson, whose age KSL couldn’t verify, but who is from the Salt Lake City area, also are charged in the siege. Knowlton yelled at officers outside the building, saying, “you took an oath!” court records say. The two were seen outside the building with a Colorado man accused of grabbing an officer’s baton and kicking him in the chest.
When the three entered a second-floor hallway, they confronted officers before leaving the building.
“All you gotta do is step aside,” Knowlton is accused of telling the officers. “You’re not getting in trouble. Stand down. For the love of your country.”
Wilson added: “We came all the way from our jobs to do your job and the freaking senators’ job,” court documents say.
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