A former North Carolina police officer convicted in the Capitol riot will spend 366 days in jail, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Friday evening.
Prosecutors said Laura Steele of Thomasville was “arguably the most culpable” of the five defendants sentenced Friday. The 55-year-old former High Point officer joined the Oath Keepers militia group days before the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, according to court filings.
That day’s violence has been tied to five deaths and about 140 officer injuries. In Washington, D.C., Friday, Steele was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison, six months of home confinement and three years of supervised release for her role in the riot. Prosecutors argued Steele’s crimes, which amounted to eight counts, justified eight to 10 years in jail.
Steele, who is married to a high-ranking High Point officer, ignored “good judgment” she learned through more than a decade as an officer and SWAT team member “to the detriment of this community and to the country,” prosecutors said.
She helped lead a military stack formation up the Capitol steps through a mob of Donald Trump supporters enraged by the former president’s claims of a stolen election, photos show.
But “that was not what she had signed up for nor experienced,” her lawyers wrote in court filings.
Steele’s defense hinged largely on the remorse that followed her after she entered the Capitol, “realized it was not the place to linger and got out as quickly as possible.” Her lawyers — rather than the year and one day in prison Steele now faces — asked for no jail time, community service and four years of home detention. That’s six months for each of the eight counts she faced.
A Washington D.C. jury in March convicted Steele and three co-defendants — Connie Meggs, Sandra Parker, William Isaacs — of felony counts related to obstructing an official proceeding, destruction of government property, and conspiracy to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties by certifying the results of the 2020 election.
A jury acquitted Bennie Parker of the other charges but convicted him of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds.
Steele’s lawyers maintained she was simply a follower of her brother and right-wing pundits who exacerbated fears as “the faithful” watched Trump’s claims of a stolen election intensify and seemingly come true.
“She had zero desire to be associated with any ‘storming,’” her lawyers contend.
She was there to help those in need of assistance, they said. When she found herself at the Capitol, her lawyers said, she “made the fateful decision” to get in line and push up the steps. She was following Kelly Meggs’ direction to go inside and stop the vote count, according to the Department of Justice news release. She was behind the only person she knew there: her brother, Graydon Young of Englewood, Fla.
While Steele joined the Oath Keepers days before the riot, Young was already a member of the right-wing militia group accused of leading, planning and executing the Capitol attack.
“Fate was to intervene,” they said, when Young told Steele the Oath Keepers needed security for “various VIPS and dignitaries” at the rally. She never intended to engage in “nefarious conduct.”
But she joined rioters who were trying to push through a line of D.C. Metropolitan Police Department officers to the Senate Chamber, prosecutors said.
Young, who has accepted a plea deal on a conspiracy charge, broke down on the witness stand in an earlier trial and apologized for his actions, according to Politico.
He testified that at one point during the riot he and Steele began to worry about the group’s plans for possible gun violence and their own legal liability. They left for North Carolina and burned their gear in Steele’s backyard that night.
“Anyone of reasonable mind would know the wrongfulness of joining a mob of criminals,” prosecutors wrote, “let alone someone who had once sworn an oath to defend against them.”
Steele is among at least 28 North Carolina defendants who have been sentenced so far.
Since Jan. 6, 2021, more than 1,100 people have been charged in nearly all 50 states, including more than 398 charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, a felony.
At least 29 defendants across the nation have backgrounds in law enforcement, Jonathan Lewis, a research fellow with the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, told The Charlotte Observer in March.
The investigation remains ongoing, and anyone with tips can call 1-800-CALL-FBI (800-225-5324) or visit tips.fbi.gov.
Hotbed of rebellion
Two years removed from the riot at the U.S. Capitol, the case file of the United States of America vs. residents of North Carolina continues to thicken. Experts say NC’s role as a recruiting, training and planning ground for the Jan. 6 attacks is largely unmatched by any other state. This report examines the state’s ties to violence, highlights cases to watch and breaks down what’s next.
EMEA Tribune is not involved in this news article, it is taken from our partners and or from the News Agencies. Copyright and Credit go to the News Agencies, email [email protected]