WASHINGTON — A much-anticipated sentencing for Capitol riot defendant Robert Reeder was called off at the last moment Wednesday after new videos surfaced mere hours before that appeared to show Reeder attacking police on Jan. 6.
Reeder had pleaded guilty in June to a single misdemeanor count for parading, demonstrating, and picketing in the Capitol — a nonviolent offense and one of the lowest-level charges filed in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. He’d been prepared to argue for no jail time, while the government wanted him behind bars for two months because it believed he’d failed to show remorse for his role in the riots.
But those plans swiftly fell apart midmorning Wednesday, when a collective of online sleuths who have spent months independently trying to identify people who participated in the riots posted previously unseen footage that they said showed Reeder attacking US Capitol Police officers. Known as “Sedition Hunters,” the group initially tweeted an image of a man with his arm outstretched making contact with an officer; the man was wearing a red hat and blue jacket that matched what Reeder was photographed wearing on Jan. 6 in other evidence previously filed in his case.
The group followed up the first tweet with a set of video clips that appeared to show the full confrontation. In the video, two police officers advance in the direction of the man identified as Reeder on the steps in front of one of the entrances to the Capitol. The man is then seen striking at one of the officers before being pushed back as other members of the crowd join the fight.
The abrupt cancellation of Reeder’s sentencing was a dramatic moment that underscored the fact that even as some Capitol riot cases wrap up with plea deals, the wider investigation and prosecution effort is ongoing. New cases are being filed weekly, and some plea agreements have required defendants to turn over their social media accounts to the FBI to review, another sign that investigators continue to collect more evidence.
Appearing before US District Judge Thomas Hogan for what was supposed to be Reeder’s sentencing on Wednesday afternoon, Assistant US Attorney Josh Rothstein confirmed that the government had become aware of the new video footage earlier in the day and immediately notified the court and Reeder’s lawyer.
Rothstein said the government initially planned to just revise its sentencing recommendation for Reeder from two months to six months in jail — the maximum penalty allowed for the misdemeanor count he pleaded guilty to — to reflect the more serious conduct depicted in the video. But once prosecutors learned there were more videos, Rothstein said they decided to ask for a delay to make sure they had all of the relevant evidence and enough time to go through it before figuring out how to proceed.
Reeder’s lawyer Robert Bonsib agreed with the plan to push back the sentencing date, suggesting that additional videos might ultimately help his client’s case; he did not elaborate on that. He said he didn’t think that the new videos would change the ultimate “nature” of their defense.
Hogan granted the delay request and reset Reeder’s sentencing for Oct. 8. The judge said he was “obviously concerned” about the new development because the original evidence in Reeder’s case portrayed him as an “observer” more than a “participant.”
It was not immediately clear if the government would consider bringing additional charges against Reeder, or if the original plea deal would stand. The agreement states explicitly that the government reserves the right to prosecute Reeder in the future for “any crime of violence ... if in fact your client committed or commits such a crime of violence prior to or after the execution of this Agreement.”
Reeder had contacted the FBI in late January and turned over videos and photos he’d recorded in and around the Capitol on Jan. 6, confirming that he went inside the building. The videos posted by Sedition Hunters didn’t appear to show him holding up his phone. Investigators have relied heavily on body camera footage from DC police officers who responded to the riots to build cases against people accused of assaulting officers, but as noted by HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly, US Capitol Police officers didn’t have that equipment.
In one of the videos that Reeder gave the FBI, he recorded himself narrating his experience, according to a transcript included in his charging papers.
“Just left the Capitol, I was one of the last people out. I was in there for over half an hour. I got gassed several times inside the Capitol, many times outside the Capitol. Got shot with pepper balls. It was fucking nuts. We had to do... ah... battle with the Police inside. It was crazy... absolutely insane,” Reeder said at the time.