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Law enforcement’s use of force against January 6 plot suspects sparks heat – and credit


And many officers arresting suspects on January 6 appear to have taken the FBI’s recommendation seriously. On a case-by-case basis, against those who wore tactical gear during the insurgency, law enforcement took a heavily militarized approach to raids and arrests. Prosecutors say such tactics are necessary when arresting many Trump supporters who participated in the assault on Capitol Hill – about five of whom, to date, face gun-related charges.

Defense attorneys for some of those charged criticized the use of militarized arrest tactics against the January 6 defendants. But most of the convictions of the FBI’s approach have come from defendants and their family members outside the courtroom, often in friendly posts that have done little to challenge claims that alleged insurgents were reportedly unfairly targeted by overly aggressive law enforcement agencies.

And the challenge from Trump supporters when they talk about using SWAT against rioters is reminiscent of what House Republicans faced this summer when 21 of them voted against awarding a medal. from Congress to the police on January 6: Blue ”while denouncing his treatment of their ideological allies.

Meanwhile, critics of excessive SWAT raids in general have told POLITICO it is reasonable for law enforcement to use them in the January 6 cases. Current and former law enforcement officials say raids are essential when arresting people linked to attacks on police.

Frank Figliuzzi, the former FBI deputy director of counterintelligence, said in an interview that many arrests on January 6 were “tactical” – carried out by specially trained officers wearing bulletproof vests and ready to go. in the face of armed resistance.

“My contacts tell me that many of them are treated as tactical arrests because they feel that the groups and individuals involved, combined with the evidence already uncovered, deserve a high level of risk for these arrests,” he said. declared.

The suspects’ potential membership in extremist groups also shapes the FBI’s decisions on how to arrest them, Figliuzzi added.

An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the ongoing investigations. Defendants in almost all of the more serious Jan. 6 cases have pleaded not guilty, although prosecutors are engaged in discussions with many of them over possible plea deals. Several defendants in the Oath Keepers conspiracy case, for example, have pleaded guilty and entered into cooperative agreements with the government.

The latest such raid took place over the weekend, when a lawyer for Zachary Rehl – a far-right Proud Boys leader accused of January 6 conspiracy – revealed that a group of he militarized law enforcement officers raided the home of one of his relatives. friends.

The lawyer estimated that around 20 officers in riot gear arrived at the home of Rehl’s friend Aaron Whallon-Wolkind before dawn on Friday morning with an armored personnel carrier and a ram fifteen feet. They handcuffed his girlfriend and seized her personal devices, the lawyer added in a court case that the raid must be linked to Rehl because Whallon-Wolkind, also affiliated with the Proud Boys, has not been charged with any crime.

Rehl was hardly the first January 6 accused to face a militarized arrest. Guy Reffitt, who bragged about donning “a full combat rattle” on Capitol Hill, was reportedly raided by a SWAT team on January 16. Thomas Caldwell, accused by the DOJ of conspiring with members of the extremist Oath Keepers militia to plan the riot, described his arrest by a full SWAT team with armored vehicles and a ram outside his door.

A lawyer for Ethan Nordean, another Proud Boys leader indicted in connection with January 6, alleged that his wife was dragged into excessive use of force by the police: “On February 3, Nordean was arrested in his state complaint accusing him of one or two crimes… his wife was awakened by flash bangs thrown into the Nordean house by a large FBI SWAT team, ”wrote Nordean lawyer Nick Smith in a court case calling for his release earlier this year.

“They pointed assault rifles at her Handcuffed, she was detained for about five hours and questioned without being miranded,” the lawyer continued. “Nordean, 30, has no criminal history.”

In an interview with pro-Trump outlet American Greatness, Caldwell also spoke out against police tactics during his arrests, saying officers forced him and his wife out of their partially clad home and pointed out weapons on them.

“People who looked like stormtroopers were pointing M4 guns at me, covering me in red [laser] points, ”he said.

But experts said militarized tactics are sometimes necessary. David Sklansky, co-director of the Criminal Justice Center at Stanford Law School and critic of the excessive use of SWAT, said in an interview that the January 6 attack was unique.

The FBI’s Jan. 10 recommendation to weigh SWAT teams over arresting people who used tactical equipment during the insurgency “doesn’t strike me as particularly troubling,” Sklansky said. “This seems to me to be an example where it would make sense for the police to worry about her safety and think they might need to use special equipment or tactics to carry out the arrest safely.”

The most notorious militarized police raid in recent memory took place on March 13, 2020, when Louisville, Ky., Police entered Breonna Taylor’s home using a ram and then rammed it down. dejected. Police conducted this raid even though Taylor had no history of violence, and the Louisville Courier-Journal reported that police did not believe she had a gun. His murder sparked a massive wave of calls to close the gaping racial disparities in the US criminal justice system.

No police officer was charged with his murder, although one was charged with endangerment without cause for allegedly shooting his gun blindly during the raid.

Paul Butler, a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, noted that Taylor’s death also strengthened the case for reform in the way law enforcement officers execute search warrants.

“Ironically, although I doubt that many insurgents are advocates for police reform, some of the proposed reforms would have made a difference to them had they been implemented,” he said. “What police reform recognizes is that increased surveillance reduces the violence and trauma caused by aggressive police tactics. “

But Butler also added that SWAT teams exist in part to arrest heavily armed people who could put police at risk – and that many of the January 6 attackers fit precisely that description.

“The reality is that some suspects pose a great risk of violence and it makes sense for officers to want to protect themselves,” he continued.

The Justice Department estimates that 1,000 assaults were committed that day, and there is growing evidence that some of the rioters took weapons with them to Washington or hid them nearby for possible escalation. violence. Prosecutors said more than a dozen members of the extremist Oath Keepers militia had hidden guns at an Arlington, Virginia hotel that they intended to deploy if the riot escalated. Again.

Many of those arrested have been released on condition that they remove all firearms from their homes.

Ryan Shapiro, head of Property of the People, said conservative criticism of the January 6 arrests smacked of hypocrisy.

“The right has applauded” the use of aggressive tactics against progressive protesters, Shapiro said in an interview. “Yet now the Conservatives are screaming ‘brutality’ when the state gives the baby-glove treatment to participants in a literal fascist coup attempt. Born out of cynicism, law and delusion, the right-wing persecution complex would be laughable if it were not a key instrument for the dismantling of democracy.