Retired Navy Lieutenant Commander Accused of Breaching US Capitol Appears in Court

Trump supporters stand on top of a police vehicle, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol
Trump supporters stand on top of a police vehicle, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Edward Caldwell allegedly forced past barricades and climbed up to a balcony on the west side of the U.S. Capitol building in the Jan. 6 riot that injured almost 140 police officers and left five people dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick.

"We are surging forward. Doors breached," Caldwell appears to have said in a Facebook message at 2:48 p.m. Jan. 6.

Caldwell, of Virginia, is allegedly associated with the Oath Keepers, a far-right militia group that recruits military and law enforcement members. He's accused of being an organizer of the Capitol attack. He and 15 Oath Keepers-linked co-defendants appeared Tuesday before District Judge Amit Mehta for a status conference.

"I accept that assignment! I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic," Caldwell allegedly wrote in a Jan. 1 Facebook comment. "We must smite them now and drive them down."

He was charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States; obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting others to do the same; knowingly entering and remaining in a restricted building; and tampering with documents or proceedings. Caldwell has previously pleaded not guilty to all charges.

During the status hearing, Mehta said that previous charges of destruction of government property and an aiding and abetting charge from the original indictment have been dropped against Caldwell.

Several of the defendants were arraigned on new charges during the hearing, including civil disorder and aiding and abetting others to do the same, and tampering with evidence. Another defendant was newly charged with assaulting, resisting or impeding police officers acting in their official duty.

All defendants who responded to new charges pleaded not guilty.

Jon Ryan Shaffer, a founding member of the Oath Keepers, pleaded guilty to related charges on April 16, a move that some believe may lead others to take plea deals.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that they have begun "informal plea negotiations with most of the defendants."

All 16 defendants in United States v. Caldwell et al. have been charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, specifically "to corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, that is, the Certification of the Electoral College vote."

Obstruction of official proceedings by destruction of evidence is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

As prosecutors work to isolate footage of the 16 defendants on Jan. 6, they have combed through at least one terabyte of data, including 680 gigabytes from cell phone extractions alone, officials said Tuesday. Prosecutors added that they still "need to complete [their] review" of footage from law enforcement officers' body cameras.

Several members of counsel, including Caldwell’s lawyer, David Fischer, requested that Caldwell’s home confinement conditions be loosened to a curfew instead. “I don’t believe he’s a danger,” Fischer said Tuesday.

“We are concerned about stepping him down to a level where he has only a curfew and that he has unfettered movements throughout his area,” the prosecution responded. “We don’t think that it’s safe for the community for him to be allowed to go wherever he wants whenever he wants.”

The next court appearance is scheduled for July 1.

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