Oroville Mercury-Register

Woman gets probation for ‘minimal’ role in Capitol riot

- By Michael Kunzelman

COLLEGE PARK, MD. » A federal judge who sentenced a California architect on Friday to probation for her role in the Capitol riot stressed that the Jan. 6 insurrecti­on “represente­d a threat to democracy” and continues to resonate “in sad and unfortunat­e ways.”

U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman noted that security fencing has gone up around the Capitol in preparatio­n for a rally on Saturday by what he called “misguided” people protesting what they allege is the mistreatme­nt of jailed insurrecti­onists who tried to stop the certificat­ion of former President Donald Trump’s loss to Joe Biden.

Friedman sentenced Valerie Elaine Ehrke to three years of probation and ordered her to perform 120 hours of community service.

Justice Department prosecutor­s said they recommende­d a probationa­ry sentence for Ehrke because she was inside the Capitol for about one minute, only stepped about 15 feet into the building and didn’t engage in any violence or property destructio­n. Friedman said Ehrke’s role in the insurrecti­on was “about as minimal as it gets.”

More than 600 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the riot. Ehrke is one of about 70 defendants who have pleaded guilty to riotrelate­d charges.

Friedman noted that some believe the jailed insurrecti­onists are “patriots.”

“And some of them may be on some level. But on another level, the conduct they engaged in in order to pursue their beliefs is not First Amendment speech and not First Amendment legitimate protest,” Friedman said. “What came to

be was a riot, was an incitement, was an insurrecti­on.”

He echoed another judge’s position that probation shouldn’t be the “automatic outcome” for misdemeano­r conviction­s like Ehrke’s. Everybody who stormed the Capitol “represente­d a threat to democracy, to our democratic norms, and continue to resonate in sad and unfortunat­e ways,” Friedman said.

Ehrke is the seventh Capitol riot defendant to be sentenced. She pleaded guilty on June 30 to illegally parading, demonstrat­ing or picketing in a Capitol building.

Over 40 other Capitol riot defendants have pleaded guilty to the same misdemeano­r offense, which carries a maximum sentence of 6 months imprisonme­nt and a $5,000 fine.

Ehrke told the judge that the Jan. 6 riot was “such a unique situation.”

“I did not have the depth of experience to understand that I needed to get out of there or stay away,” she said.

In a letter submitted to the court before her sentencing, Ehrke called herself “a fine member of society” who often picks up trash in her neighborho­od and has worked on architectu­ral projects in her community free of charge.

“I am a small town girl

who loves my town, my state and my country,” she wrote.

Prosecutor­s asked Friedman to sentence Ehrke to three years of probation and 40 hours of community service. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Birney said Ehrke was among the first Capitol riot defendants to agree to plead guilty.

“The government places a lot of weight on that,” he added.

Ehrke traveled to Washington, D.C., from her home in Arbuckle, California, on Jan. 5 to attend Trump’s speech on the following day. After hearing the speech, she initially returned to her hotel room.

“However, when she saw a news story about how people were going to the U.S. Capitol, she decided she wanted to be part of the crowd,” prosecutor­s wrote in a court filing.

Ehrke recorded and uploaded videos to Facebook as she walked to the Capitol, including one with a caption that said she was heading to the “breached” building. Ehrke would have heard an alarm sounding throughout the Capitol when she entered. She was stopped at the back of a crowd of people when police started pushing them back through a hallway and out of the building through a door.

 ?? BRYNN ANDERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Security fencing is seen around the Capitol in Washington on Friday ahead of a weekend rally planned by allies of former President Donald Trump.
BRYNN ANDERSON — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Security fencing is seen around the Capitol in Washington on Friday ahead of a weekend rally planned by allies of former President Donald Trump.

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