Video evidence presented during the prosecution of defendants linked to the Jan. 6, 2021 riots at the U.S. Capitol — including footage of a man spraying and throwing a fire extinguisher at police officers and video of men aggressively pulling a Metro Police Department officer into the crowd — has given the public a clearer understanding of what specific, violent acts led prosecutors to pursue criminal charges in hundreds of cases.
"If the government is using evidence to keep people in jail, then the public has an extreme interest in seeing what that evidence is," said Chuck Tobin, an attorney for Ballard Spahr who helped push for the public release of video exhibits pertaining to at least 166 defendants.
Tobin continues to work on behalf of a coalition of 16 news media organizations, including Scripps News.
Every piece of footage, he said, gives the public a unique perspective.
Tobin told Scripps News one of the most important pieces of video made public was the body-worn camera footage captured by Michael Fanone, a former Metropolitan Police Department narcotics officer, who was beaten and tased by attackers who yanked him into the crowd.
"To me, there's no better example of the horror that people went through, the assault on our system, and the assault on our country than watching that officer begging for his life in front of the crowd. That brave officer," Tobin said.
Without the footage, Fanone said, "I don't believe there would have been any criminal prosecutions." Fanone said he was knocked unconscious during the ordeal.
The likelihood of identifying the people in the crowd was “virtually zero without that (video) evidence,” said Fanone. “Those images tell the true story of what happened onJanuary 6th, and they show the savage brutality of that day, for what it was,” he said.
Attorneys also fought for the release of the government’s closed circuit television camera footage and a variety of other types of video collected during the criminal investigation.
“It’s important to transparency. It’s important to the process. It’s important to a full understanding of what these people allegedly did on January 6th. It’s an important part of telling the entire story,” Tobin said, calling the Jan. 6 attacks the “darkest moment in our nation’s history.”
Various other video clips revealed the violent actions of others including Robert Palmer, a Florida resident who is now serving a 63-month prison sentence.
In the footage, Palmer can be seen grabbing a fire extinguisher and spraying it at officers before throwing it at them. Cameras also captured him launching a piece of plywood and another pole in the direction of police.
Palmer pleaded guilty to “assault, resisting or impeding officers, using a dangerous weapon.”
“I was disappointed at the decisions that he made,” said Michael Batenburg, who described himself as a friend and spiritual mentor of Palmer.
In October 2021, Batenburg wrote a letter to the judge on Palmer’s behalf, describing Palmer as “a good man with a good heart.” In the letter, he said he believed Palmer was remorseful after getting “caught up in the media and emotional hype generated during times of political dissension.”
Batenburg told Scripps News he had never reviewed the footage of Palmer’s behavior until Scripps News shared it with him in December 2022.
“I was disappointed when I heard what he did. It’s just that when I saw what he did, (I) was even more disappointed and sympathetic for those that were trying to do their job,” said Batenburg.
“Video is video,” he added, “and it’s exactly what happened, and it would give people a lot better understanding of exactly what happened as it was taking place and allow them to make their decisions based on what they’re seeing, not just what they’re hearing.”
Palmer wrote his own letter to the judge in November 2021 in which he expressed his “sincere and deepest apologies.”
In the handwritten note, he told the judge he was “lied to by those that at the time had great power meaning the then sitting President, as well as those acting on his behalf.”
According to the Department of Justice, more than 950 people have been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 attacks. At least 351 federal defendants have already been sentenced for their involvement in criminal activity that day. At least 192 people, according to the Department of Justice, have been sentenced to a period of incarceration.
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