A Judge Sent A Capitol Rioter To Prison, Rejecting The Government’s Lighter Recommendation

“There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home,” Judge Tanya Chutkan said.

WASHINGTON — A judge on Monday ordered Capitol rioter Matthew Mazzocco to spend 45 days in prison, rejecting not only the defense’s argument for probation but also the prosecution’s recommendation that he be sentenced to home confinement instead of time behind bars.

The sentencing before US District Judge Tanya Chutkan marked the first time that any judge presiding over the hundreds of Jan. 6 prosecutions in Washington, DC, handed down a sentence that was harsher than what the government asked for. Chutkan noted that Mazzocco had already been allowed to go home and be with his family in the months since his arrest in mid-January and said his punishment had to be more severe.

“There have to be consequences for participating in an attempted violent overthrow of the government, beyond sitting at home,” Chutkan said.

Mazzocco is the 12th person sentenced in connection with the Jan. 6 insurrection. He pleaded guilty to one count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in the Capitol, a misdemeanor crime that carries a maximum sentence of six months in prison. The government had asked for a sentence of three months home confinement followed by a period of probation. Assistant US Attorney Kimberly Nielsen had argued that probation alone wasn’t enough, but also that Mazzocco should get credit for pleading guilty early — he was one of the first 10 people to come forward to accept responsibility and take a plea deal, she said.

Mazzocco’s 45-day sentence is the same as sentences that a different judge imposed last week for two other Capitol rioters who pleaded guilty to the parading misdemeanor; in those cases, however, the government had asked that those defendants spend four months in prison.

Chutkan gave less weight to Mazzocco’s early guilty plea, saying that he only decided to show remorse after it was clear he could face prison time. His sentence not only needed to deter him from participating in similar incidents in the future, she said, but also deter other people. She said the evidence showed Mazzocco didn’t go to the Capitol out of love for his country, but rather “to support one man … in total disregard of a lawfully conducted election.” She also chastised him for taking photos to document the “chaos” around him as if it were “entertainment.”

“The country is watching to see what the consequences are for something that has not ever happened in the history of this country before, for actions and crimes that threaten to undermine the rule of law and our democracy,” Chutkan said.

The judge also took a moment to address the broader public conversation around the Jan. 6 prosecutions, rejecting a narrative that’s emerged among some conservatives that Capitol rioters are being treated unfairly compared to people who participated in protests across the country last summer after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was murdered by a police officer and after other Black Americans were killed by police.

“I flatly disagree,” Chutkan said of comparisons between Jan. 6 and the demonstrations against police violence. Although some protesters did become violent last year, she said, it was a “false equivalency” to compare people protesting for civil rights to a “violent mob” seeking to overthrow the government.

Mazzocco flew from his home in Texas to Washington on Jan. 5. He took a selfie just outside an entrance to the Capitol that showed the mob behind him breaching a set of doors and another one inside the building; the government included those images in its court papers. He had a body camera at the time and appeared to be using it to film inside the Capitol, but Nielsen said on Monday that Mazzocco told investigators he didn’t know what happened to the camera and that the government never found it. He was inside the Capitol for about 12 minutes.

Mazzocco also took a selfie outside the Capitol and posted it on Facebook with the caption, “The capital is ours!” The government highlighted messages he sent via Facebook on the evening of Jan. 6 denying he’d done anything wrong and claiming there was “foul play” in the election, as well as text messages he sent after he returned home where he denied that the events of Jan. 6 were a “riot” and claimed that the instigators were “antifa plants.”

Mazzocco selfies while storming the US capitol

During Monday’s hearing, Mazzocco told the judge that he understood some people would say anything to get out of trouble, but that he was “truly sorry” for his actions on Jan. 6. He spoke about the toll his involvement in the riots had taken on his family, saying that they’d received death threats and harassing calls and messages.

“I know that I made a big mistake and I cannot undo that and I just would like to apologize to the country, to you, and to everyone that's been affected by this,” he said. His lawyer also read out loud a letter he’d written in advance of the hearing expressing his apologies because he was so nervous about speaking.

In announcing the sentence, Chutkan said that although Mazzocco and other defendants had been pleading guilty to so-called petty misdemeanor crimes, she didn’t view the crimes they committed that day as “petty.” She echoed other judges who have spoken about how every person at the Capitol empowered the mob to overrun and assault police and breach the building, regardless of what each individual was doing on the ground.

“That was no mere protest,” the judge said.

Of the dozen defendants sentenced so far, Mazzocco is one of six people to receive prison time; two of those defendants were already in pretrial detention and got the equivalent of the time they’d already served. In the other three cases, judges imposed less time behind bars than what the government had requested.

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