Prosecutors seek longest Jan. 6 sentence yet for rioter who assaulted police in Capitol tunnel

Prosecutors on Friday recommended more than five years in jail for a Jan. 6 rioter who assaulted police and participated in some of the most violent episodes of the entire attack, the steepest sentence sought to date and a harbinger of even longer sentence requests that could come.

Robert Palmer hurled wooden boards and a fire extinguisher at police officers guarding the Lower West Terrace tunnel of the Capitol, the site being prepared for Joe Biden’s inauguration weeks later — and just yards from where some lawmakers were sheltering amid the violence.

“Defendant’s repeated violent assaults on law enforcement for the purpose of overturning a democratic election warrant a significant term of imprisonment,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Juman wrote in the 39-page sentencing memo.

Palmer, who pleaded guilty on Oct. 4, would be the first assailant sentenced for participating in the Lower West Tunnel violence, where police battled rioters for more than two hours and some of the most harrowing scenes of violence occurred. The clash there included the beating and tasing of Washington Metropolitan Police Officer Michael Fanone and the crushing of Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges in a Capitol doorway. Both episodes have become part of iconic and disturbing images of that day.

The Justice Department called for a 63-month sentence for Palmer, which prosecutors noted was on the lower end of the recommended range based on the details of his crime. The primary reason for that decision was that Palmer was one of the few felony defendants to plead guilty early and cooperate with law enforcement.

“Unlike other Capitol defendants, Palmer pled guilty relatively early, turned himself into law enforcement, and voluntarily met with the FBI to provide truthful information,” prosecutors wrote. “A 63-month sentence reflects the gravity of Palmer’s conduct, his lack of remorse, and the need to deter Palmer and others from similar conduct in the future, while at the same time recognizing Palmer’s early decision to plead guilty and avoid the need for a trial.”

The longest sentence handed down so far went to Jacob Chansley, also known as the QAnon Shaman. Chansley infamously wore a horned headdress and carried a bullhorn as he urged rioters on and was among the first to breach the Capitol. He made his way to the Senate chamber and onto the dais where then-Vice President Mike Pence had stood moments earlier. Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced him to 41 months in prison. That sentence matched the one Lamberth also gave to Scott Fairlamb, who pleaded guilty to assaulting a police officer outside the Capitol.

“Unlike Fairlamb, Palmer engaged in repeated assaults on law enforcement, acquired and used dangerous weapons, and never sought to assist law enforcement,” Juman noted.

The sentencing memo is unique for another reason as well: It quotes at length from public comments made by Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.), who said during a July hearing that she was hiding in an office near the West Terrace tunnel during the most extreme moments of the violence.

“While you were holding back the mob at the Lower West Terrace entrance, I was holed up with Congresswoman Kathleen Rice in a small office about 40 paces from the tunnel that you all were in,” Murphy said at the time, in a passage now quoted by prosecutors.

Murphy is one of nine House lawmakers on the Jan. 6 select committee probing multiple aspects of the attack.

Prosecutors spent most of their memo detailing the relentless violence they say Palmer perpetrated. After witnessing numerous police assaults, Juman writes, “Palmer chose to join in.”

First, Juman says, Palmer pushed his way to the front of the line of rioters and threw a “wooden plank” at officers. Then he sprayed a fire extinguisher at them before throwing it at them. He briefly retreated after absorbing pepper spray but returned a few minutes later to hurl a four-to five-foot pole at police.

Police then hit Palmer in the abdomen with a “non-lethal” munition, Juman says. After laying on the ground briefly, Palmer got up and “showed off his injury to the crowd,” claiming he was only defending himself when he was attacked.

Prosecutors also considered statements Palmer made after entering his guilty plea in the case. Juman notes that Palmer “posted a public statement on the Internet falsely claiming that his actions on January 6 were purely defensive, and falsely claiming that his assaults on law enforcement were a reaction to – rather than the cause of – him being tear gassed and shot with a non-lethal projectile.”

“Palmer’s post-plea falsehoods demonstrate a lack of remorse and are inconsistent with an acceptance of responsibility,” Juman writes.

Nicholas Wu contributed to this report.

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