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6 of 36 Ohioans charged in January 6 attack on Capitol have entered pleas

Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, federal prosecutors have charged 725 people with crimes.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, federal prosecutors have charged 725 people with crimes ranging from violence to disorderly conduct to impeding Congress from certifying the 2020 election.

Nearly a quarter of those charged – or 165 – have entered guilty pleas.

A 10 Investigates’ review of the criminal charges shows at least 36 Ohioans have been charged in connection to the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

Of those, six people have pleaded guilty.

The FBI and federal prosecutors allege that those who descended on the U.S. Capitol last year engaged in destruction of property and assaults on Capitol police officers and that many were guided by a false claim that the election had somehow been stolen away from President Trump.

According to online court records, among those from the Columbus area who have entered plea agreements include Erik Rau and Oliver Sarko. Rau was sentenced to 45 days behind bars and ordered to pay $500 in restitution.

Caleb Jones also entered a plea deal and was sentenced last month to two years’ probation and ordered to pay $500 in restitution. The Department of Justice has said protesters who breached the U.S. Capitol cost more than $1.5 million in damage.

Jones’ attorney, Sam Shamansky, told 10 Investigates by phone this week that his client was “remorseful” for his actions and had gone to D.C. to observe what was going on that day.

Another person charged in the events of Jan.6, Dustin Thompson, Shamansky said his client was “regrettable brainwashed” by President Trump’s call to help overturn a lawful election.

Misinformation about the legitimacy of the election – repeated by both President Trump and his supporters – is in part helped fuel the events of January 6, prosecutors allege.  

According to court documents, some of those charged in attendance included Trump supporters, members of an Ohio militia and others, who engaged in violence in an attempt to interfere with the certification of the 2020 election.

Donovan Crowl and Jessica Watkins of Woodstock, Ohio, were among two members of an Ohio state militia who were affiliated with the Oath Keepers.

The group’s website claims it’s comprised of former military and law enforcement members who will defend the Constitution “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The Anti-Defamation League defines the Oath Keepers as “right-wing anti-government extremists.”

Prosecutors allege Watkins and Crowl were part of a violent mob that disrupted Congress.

The feds also allege Watkins used her position at a bar in Woodstock, Ohio and social media apps to recruit other militia members, allegedly telling one potential recruit, “[I]t is our duty as Americans to fight, kill and die for our rights.”

But Watkins’ attorney, Michelle Peterson, argued in court records that the prosecutors’ case isn’t nearly as strong as the government claims.

She said prosecutors have no evidence Watkins engaged in violence or property destruction.

Peterson also wrote that Watkins thought she was going there to provide security for Roger Stone, a Trump ally. Peterson argued unsuccessfully to have Watkins released on her own recognizance, claiming that Watkins could endure harsh treatment in custody because she is transgender.

Since being charged, Watkins has lost the lease on her bar and apartment, disbanded her militia and feels “sickened” by the events of January 6, 2021, according to court records.

Peterson declined to comment to 10 Investigates beyond what is already in the court record.

Donovan Crawl, also of Woodstock, Ohio, was charged alongside Watkins and several others accused of having ties to militias or the Oath Keepers.

The FBI obtained video and cell phone images of Watkins and Crowl inside the Capitol.

In one video, Watkins can be heard saying: “We’re in the f---ing Capitol bro!”

Earlier this week, 10 Investigates visited Woodstock hoping to learn more.

Residents we spoke to off-camera told us they recalled the FBI raid on Watkins’ apartment, which was above the bar she ran. Court records show the FBI claims they found paperwork detailing how build explosives with bleach.

10 Investigates was unable to reach Crowl. Watkins is in federal custody. Both face and April trial date.

While in Woodstock, we met Karl Pullins, who has an upside down American flag waving in his front yard. Directly underneath that was a flag that read “F--- Biden.”

“I like it. I think it’s real pretty. I think there should be 100 million out there like that,” Pullins said, referring to his flag.

When asked what he made of two people from his hometown being charged with storming the U.S. Capitol, accused of what federal prosecutors say was disrupting the electoral process?

Pullins said: “Well, them and a lot of other people. And I think the government was involved in that too. That’s my opinion.”

That belief – that the government or others posing as Trump supporters were involved in pre-planning the events of January 6th – has been parroted by others – including Ohioans charged.

Federal court records show Stephen Michael Ayres of Warren, Ohio and two others created a video posted to social media and stated that “it was planned out” adding that law enforcement allowed protesters inside and only dispersed after “they got what they needed.” Other videos posted to social media show rioters assaulting Capitol Police or breaching the windows and doors of the U.S. Capitol.

10 Investigates also spoke this week to Harry Trombitas, a retired FBI agent.

We asked him about the messaging behind the Department of Justice and FBI bringing criminal charges against more than 700 individuals.

“It was a very bad situation and I think the message is that as long as you are peacefully you are welcome to do so, but as soon as you cross that line…. Then you are going to be held accountable,” he said.

“Hopefully people are learning their lessons by the number of people that  are being prosecuted and held accountable for what they did. It’s one thing to show up and protest.

"You are free to have your own thoughts on if you think the election was stolen or legitimate. All the evidence so far indicates it was legitimate election. But some people only believe what they want to believe.”

On Thursday, former President Donald Trump released a lengthy statement in which he blasted President Biden for the state of the economy, COVID and again repeated false statements about the legitimacy of the 2020 election, writing in part:

"They got away with something, and it is leading to our Country's destruction."

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