Prosecutors fight efforts by East Liverpool Jan. 6 suspect to ban words from trial and move case to Ohio
Government attorneys are fighting efforts by a Capitol insurrection suspect from East Liverpool to prohibit prosecutors from using certain terms he considers inflammatory and to move his trial out of Washington D.C.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sean McCauley and Samantha Miller have responded to motions filed in December by Kenneth Joseph Owen Thomas, who in addition to seeking a change of venue, is objecting to the government’s use of the words “rioters,” “breach, “confrontation,” “antigovernment extremism,” “insurrectionists, and mob” in his case.
Thomas calls the terms “hearsay” and “prejudicial”, while prosecutors claim the words accurately establishes and describes his alleged crimes during the January 6th effort to stop congress from certifying Joseph Biden as President.
Claiming that Thomas played a unique leadership role in the riot, prosecutors claim Thomas operated under the alias of “Pi Anon”, leading a MAGA caravan which he referred to as the “Midnight Riders” from Alabama to Washington to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally.
According to investigators, Thomas led assaults on five police officers, assaulting several officers on the West Front of the Capitol by, twice, running up a short flight of stairs and throwing his body and hands into the officers.
Thomas is also accused of assaulting officers from the Prince George’s County Police Department who had been called from across the Potomac to assist with the crisis at the Capitol after local police were being overwhelmed
Prosecutors offer the following description of Thomas’ alleged actions on January 6, 2021:
Not only did the defendant participate in the violence, but he acted as a ringleader: always appearing at the front of the line against police, the defendant consistently called out to his fellow rioters to hold the line, gave them instructions to turn their backs to the line of officers as they attempted to advance against the police line, and ordered the rioters when and where to assault the police.
Thomas is charged with obstruction of Law Enforcement during a civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, five felony counts related to assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers, three counts relating to disorderly conduct and violence in a restricted building or ground, and two misdemeanor counts relating to disorderly conduct and violence in a Capitol building or grounds.
Thomas, who never actually entered the Capitol building, has moved to dismiss the charge of obstruction of an official proceeding claiming his conduct wasn’t serious enough to justify. Prosecutors note that every judge that has heard January 6 cases has rejected that argument.
The government argues that the words Thomas wants excluded are not prejudicial, but fairly describe his conduct and that Thomas has not presented any arguments as to how those words would prejudice his case.
Prosecutors say they government does not need “to sanitize its case, to deflate its witnesses’ testimony or to tell its story in a monotone.”
”..what took place on January 6, 2021 was, in fact, a riot involving rioters, and an attack on the United States Capitol, the government of the United States, and American democracy,” the assistant attorneys argue in their reply.
Prosecutors say Law enforcement officers will explain to the jury that, in expelling rioters from both the Capitol and the surrounding area, they could not distinguish between those rioters who were overtly violent, and those who were not. Everyone had to leave because law enforcement could not predict who would act violently.
Thomas is also asking the judge to prohibit the prosecutors from characterizing him as an “anti-government extremist.” According to the government’s response, they don’t plan to have any witness identify Thomas as such or label him that during the trial.
Thomas’ arguments about hearsay and opinion are lifted from another capitol riot case already declared as moot, according to the U.S. Attorney, who adds that the words and phrases, when captured in videos, photos, or other evidence, are not hearsay.
Prosecutors say what took place at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 “may be properly described as extreme, or as a riot, breach, confrontation, assault, insurrection, or mob”:
Thousands of people forced their way into the Capitol building during the constitutionally mandated process of certifying the Electoral College votes, threatened the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election, injured more than one hundred law enforcement officers, and caused more than two million dollars in damage and loss. This was not a protest.
At trial, the government says it intends to present witnesses who will testify based on their experiences and perceptions, which the jury may consider in judging the Thomas’s actions in context, which the government says was a riot.
Thomas has also asked to transfer venue in this case from Washington D.C. to the Northern District of Ohio.
Prosecutors says Thomas bases the request on arguments that have been rejected by every judge who has considered a January 6th case, and government attorneys ask this judge to do the same.
Neither the District of Columbia’s political makeup, nor the impact of January 6 on Washington D.C. supports a change of venue, according to the government, who says that Thomas has failed to make an argument that keeping his case in the nation’s capital will prejudice his case.
Judge Dabney Friedrich has scheduled hearings on the motions for March 2.
More than 900 people have been charged in connection with the Capital insurrection. Seven of those are from here in the Valley. One of those seven has since taken his own life.