Prosecutors seek 17-year sentence for Arizona defendant in Jan. 6 attack

Emergency vehicles surround the U.S. Capitol on the night of Jan. 6, 2021, just hours after rioters left the building after failing to stop the certification of President Joe Biden’s election. (Photo by Benjamin Applebaum/Department of Homeland Security)

WASHINGTON – Prosecutors are seeking a 17-year sentence for Arizona resident Edward Vallejo, one of nine members of the Oath Keepers who were convicted of seditious conspiracy in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The Oath Keepers could be sentenced as early as Thursday, a day after emotional testimony in U.S. District Court in Washington by police officers who were assaulted that day. The officers spoke of rioters who “called us traitors” and spit on, beat and attacked them with mace, bear spray and other weapons.

“The emotional and mental trauma stayed with me from that day,” said Metropolitan Police Officer Christopher Owens, who cried as he struggled to detail his experience for District Judge Amit Mehta. Owens was working with one of the first police units to enter the Capitol after rioters breached the building.

The Justice Department said earlier this month that it has made 1,033 arrests in all 50 states in connection with the Jan. 6 attacks, when supporters of former President Donald Trump tried to stop Congress from certifying the election to make Joe Biden the next president.

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Thousands of Trump supporters attended a rally that day on the National Mall where he repeated his claims of election fraud and told the crowd that if they didn’t “fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

The mob then marched down the Mall and breached the Capitol, overwhelming police and sending members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence scrambling for safety. Five people died in the ensuing riot and hundreds were injured.

U.S. Capitol Police Officers David Lazarus and Harry Dunn testified Wednesday to the lasting impact the riots have had on their lives and the lives of their coworkers. Lazarus, who was the lead officer on then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s security detail, said his fears became a reality when he heard shots had been fired in the House.

“I felt like nothing I did would be enough,” he said.

Lazarus explained that many of his coworkers have since left their positions, as some can “no longer take the pain of working at the Capitol.”

“Lives and careers have been ruined and will never return to normal,” he said.

Dunn discussed his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and panic attacks since the insurrection. He said that he does not have flashbacks but instead experiences “a nightmare of January 6th that never stops.”

Owens told the court that he would never forget the tears in his daughter’s eyes the next morning as he downplayed his experience, or the way his wife cried as she saw how bloody and bruised he was under his uniform. He said he could not forgive the Oath Keepers for the trauma they caused his family and asked the judge to hand down the maximum sentence.

A shattered window in the Speakers Lobby off the House chamber in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, just hours after rioters left the building. (Photo by Benjamin Applebaum/Department of Homeland Security)

Compared to the misdemeanor charges faced by the bulk of the defendants, the Oath Keepers were charged with the little-used felony count of seditious conspiracy. All nine were convicted after trials in the fall and again in January.

Prosecutors said the Oath Keepers spent weeks planning for a possible uprising to block Biden’s election, stockpiling weapons and organizing movements of their own members and other protesters on the Capitol.

The 17-year sentence that prosecutors are seeking for Vallejo falls in the middle of the range sought for the Oath Keepers, who face 10 years up to 25 for Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the group.

While Rhodes and most of the others were on the Capitol, Vallejo waited in a hotel across the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia, as part of what prosecutors said was designed to be a heavily armed “quick reaction force.” He had supplies of firearms and 30-days worth of food ready.

According to court documents, Vallejo messaged fellow Oath Keepers as they breached the Capitol, reminding them that the “QRF” was outfitted and to “just say the word” to activate them.

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In their sentencing report, prosecutors said the Oath Keepers “are unlike any of the hundreds of others who have been sentenced for their roles in the attack on the Capitol. Each defendant therefore deserves a significant sentence of incarceration.”

But Vallejo’s attorney said in response to the government’s sentencing request that prosecutors’ claims that Vallejo was some kind of “QRF leader” are baseless. Unlike the other defendants, Vallejo “was not there, did nothing violent, opposed the destruction of Capitol property, and did nothing to hinder the investigation,” his attorneys said.

They called Vallejo one of “hundreds of lifelong law-abiding people … lied to by the sitting President.” They urged Mehta to limit Vallejo’s sentence to the four months he has spent in jail and 12 months of home detention.

The Justice Department said 570 defendants have pleaded guilty in connection with the attack and another 78 have been convicted at trial. But the Oath Keepers have faced some of the stiffest charges in the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards Jr. emphasized the importance of law enforcement’s intervention that day and the gravity of their sacrifices.

“It was an attack on constitutional order but also on real people,” Edwards said. “Democracy stands because these people stood.”

Erin Murphy eh-rin mer-fee (she/her)
News Reporter, Washington, D.C.

Erin Murphy expects to graduate from Dublin City University in November 2023 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Murphy is a reporter at the Cronkite News Washington, D.C., bureau and was deputy editor of arts and culture of The College View, DCU’s student publication.