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Cleveland man charged in Jan. 6 Capitol breach faces trial today in Washington

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: The Cleveland, Tennessee, man charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of angry sup

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press: The Cleveland, Tennessee, man charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol by a mob of angry supporters of former President Donald Trump trying to block certification of his 2020 election loss will face trial Monday on charges contained in an 11-count federal indictment.


Joseph Lino “Jose” Padilla, 42, waived his right to a jury trial April 6, according to court documents in U.S. District Court in the nation’s capital, so when the trial begins Monday, his fate will be decided by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, an appointee of former President George W. Bush.


Padilla, honorably discharged from the Tennessee National Guard in 2012, has remained in federal custody in Washington, D.C., since his arrest Feb. 23, 2021, and he pleaded not guilty to charges March 30, 2021. Bates carved out five days for Padilla’s trial.


Trial briefs filed April 25-26 by the U.S. government and Padilla’s attorney, Michael Cronkwright, respectively, detail anticipated action in the case and a list of anticipated witnesses.


For the U.S. government, prosecuting U.S. attorneys Matthew M. Graves, Douglas B. Brasher and Andrew S. Haag state in a 16-page trial brief the prosecution team plans testimony from the U.S. Secret Service, Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Capitol Police and the FBI.


Cronkwright’s four-page trial brief for the defense didn’t list any witnesses but focused on what the defense considers the most serious charges among the 11 counts against Padilla. The charges at the heart of the government’s case, Cronkwright contends, are one count of assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; two counts of assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers using a dangerous weapon; obstruction of an official proceeding; and aiding and abetting, according to the defense’s trial brief.


Government’s case

The prosecution’s trial brief details the government’s description of events taking place Jan. 6, 2021, along with a timeline associated with Padilla’s alleged criminal acts.


That day, thousands of people descended on the U.S. Capitol building and grounds when a joint session of Congress had convened to certify the votes of the Electoral College for the 2020 presidential election, the government’s brief states.


“As the House and Senate proceedings took place,” the brief states, “a large crowd of protesters gathered outside the Capitol. Shortly after 2 p.m., a violent mob of rioters forced entry into the Capitol. Mayhem broke out inside the building, putting an hourslong halt to the electoral vote count while elected representatives, congressional staff and members of the press hid from the mob.”

At 1:31 p.m. the day of the breach, Padilla approached a bike rack barricade line protected by officers from the Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Capitol Police on the Lower West Terrace of the Capitol, the brief states. Police body cameras and videos captured by some in the crowd show Padilla and others pushing against the barricade shouting, among other things, “Push! Push! F——— push!” the brief states. A few minutes later, Padilla, along with others, used a large Trump sign with a metal frame prosecutors contend was used as a battering ram to push against the police line.


When the police line finally broke, officers retreated to the inaugural stage through an internal stairwell with Padilla following close behind, according to the brief. Surveillance video shows Padilla was the second rioter up that stairwell.


The officers retreated further into the Capitol, through a hallway that has come to be known as the “tunnel” in the context of Jan. 6-related prosecutions, the brief states. Inside the tunnel, officers packed shoulder to shoulder, with riot shields above their heads, to stop rioters from breaching into the heart of the Capitol building. Within minutes of rioters packing into the tunnel themselves, Padilla walked into the tunnel, just a few feet back from the officers, as alarms blared and rioters chanted “Whose House? Our House,” the brief states.


At 4:45 p.m., rioters began attacking police with flagpoles, hockey sticks, a megaphone and other objects, the brief states. At the rioters’ feet, a fallen officer was being dragged out into the crowd, and another rioter was experiencing a medical emergency, the brief states.


As this was happening, Padilla threw a flagpole into the tunnel, striking a Capitol police officer in the helmet, the brief alleges. The violence directed toward the officers defending the tunnel waxed and waned for several hours but did not stop until the rioters were finally cleared from the Capitol building and the surrounding area.


The government’s trial brief gives a short synopsis of anticipated testimony from each of its witnesses:

— U.S. Secret Service Inspector Lanelle Hawa will testify about the presence of then-Vice President Mike Pence in the Capitol on the day of the breach, his evacuation from the Senate Chamber and the fact he remained within the restricted perimeter of the Capitol until at least 8 p.m.


— U.S. Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza will testify about the U.S. Capitol building, generally, the restricted perimeter in place Jan. 6, 2021, and the interruption of congressional proceedings due to the breach of the Capitol building and restricted perimeter.


— Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Jayson Cropper will testify about his encounter with Padilla on the police line on the West Plaza. He will also authenticate his body-worn camera video, as well as other videos depicting the events on the West Plaza.


— Officer Owais Akhtar will testify about his encounter with Padilla on the police line on the West Plaza.


— Metropolitan Police Sgt. Paul Riley will testify about his experience defending the Capitol against rioters in the tunnel.


— U.S. Capitol Police Officer Oscar Corado will testify about his experience defending the Capitol against rioters in the tunnel. He will identify himself in various video exhibits and will testify that the flagpole thrown by the defendant struck his helmet, though he is not expected to testify he was injured by the flagpole.


— FBI Agent Mac Montana will introduce various exhibits into evidence, including Padilla’s jacket and backpack worn during the breach, videos of Padilla, Padilla’s social media posts and other records described by the government as self-authenticating.


— FBI Agent Timothy Ervin may be called to establish the admissibility of certain exhibits.


Padilla’s defense

Cronkwright first points to two of the four counts against Padilla related to his throwing a flagpole and his contact with a metal Trump sign said by prosecutors to have been used as a battering ram against police, according to court documents.


Relative to the sign, prosecutors correctly discern Padilla will assert the Trump sign is appropriately viewed as a free speech expression, but it was not used by Padilla as a weapon, Cronkwright states. He contends Padilla had brief contact with the sign while another protester was shouting instructions into a megaphone about erecting the sign.


In the defense brief, Padilla admits to throwing the flagpole but will seek to demonstrate he had no intention of assaulting an officer with the flagpole. Cronkwright contends Padilla can be seen to aim with his left hand and throw the pole with his right hand.


“The flagpole can be seen to travel directly over the head of a protester who had ducked down in time to avoid getting hit by it. Just previously, that protester had bent down to pick up a weapon and was advancing on a fallen officer,” Cronkwright states.


Cronkwright also attacks the late addition of a witness prosecutors contend to be the victim of the flagpole thrown by Padilla.


“Many months ago, the government was asked to name its alleged victim and now conveniently produces a witness who claims to have been struck by the pole. Defendant objects to the late production of this information and will seek to bar its admission,” Cronkwright states.


The fourth count singled out by Cronkwright relates to the interruption of the Congressional hearing to certify the election. Cronkwright contends Padilla was making his grievances known to Congress, according to the brief.


“Mr. Padilla was interested in seeing the lawful challenges to the certification proceed,” Cronkwright states. “Mr. Padilla was hopeful that members of Congress would use the objection process in the manner intended by law. As a result, his position is that he neither attempted nor intended a disruption of that process. On the other hand, he did want to make his grievances known to the legislature.”


According to the brief, Cronkwright also will argue several statements by Padilla on social media were taken out of context and were best described as bravado.


Padilla’s trial will begin at 9:30 a.m. Monday in Washington, D.C.