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Arrest of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio detailed on witness stand

Two days before a far-right mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, police arrested the leader of the Proud Boys militia group for burning a Black Lives Matter flag at a different protest.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A police officer who helped arrest Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the far-right Proud Boys, two days before the Jan. 6 insurrection testified Wednesday before a federal jury.

Joshua Coble, an eight-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department, said he was in a team of 10 to 15 other officers who were surveilling Tarrio on Jan. 4, 2021, at Reagan International Airport in Virginia based on a misdemeanor warrant for destruction of property. 

Two days later, as a ceremony was underway on Congress to certify the results of the 2020 election, a far-right mob overran the halls of the U.S. government in an unsuccessful bid to keep the outgoing President Donald Trump in power. Tarrio is not accused of physically breaching the Capitol building in the Jan. 6 riot, but prosecutors say he and four co-conspirators, all fellow Proud Boys who are also standing trial this month in Washington, were part of a coordinated attack on the Capitol.  

Coble identified Tarrio in court and said officers could not arrest him after he got off the plane in Virginia because it was not within the jurisdiction of the arrest warrant, which was issued in Washington. The plan was for officers to take Tarrio into custody “with adequate manpower,” Coble said, once Tarrio arrived in Washington.

From the airport, Tarrio hailed a rideshare vehicle, and Coble said a group of about 10 officers set up a traffic stop in a city tunnel where Tarrio was ultimately taken into custody. Among the various items police then seized from Tarrio, according to Coble, were a flash drive, a cellphone, an Apple watch, toiletries, a gas mask, pepper spray, radios, a vest designed to carry bulletproof plates and two high-capacity ammunition magazines. 

Jurors saw photos of several of the items, as well as a stay-away order issued on Jan. 5 that ordered Tarrio to stay out of Washington except for court appearances in relation to the case, in-person meetings with his attorney and/or pretrial services in relation to the case. 

Coble, now an investigator with the Metropolitan Police Department, conceded on cross-examination that Tarrio was not hostile, evasive or trying to hide anything during his arrest. Tarrio’s attorney, Sabino Jauregui, asked to get the witness to agree that the magazines seized from Tarrio were “decorative.” Pushing back, however, Coble said he believed the Proud Boys insignia on the magazines were decorative but that the magazines themselves “were real and capable of holding ammunition.” 

Two firearm magazines that police seized from Enrique Tarrio when they arrested the leader of the Oath Keepers on Jan. 4, 2021, for a misdemeanor warrant for destruction of property. Tarrio's group was at the forefront of the insurrection two days later when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. (Justice Department via Courthouse News)

Jauregui then asked if Coble was speculating as to whether the magazines were actual working magazines. Coble conceded that he did not actually know whether the magazines were operable, but said they did not contain any obvious flaws that would render them unusable. 

“Those mags, just like the vest, were decorative in nature,” the attorney insisted. “Isn’t that true?” 

But the witness disagreed, telling the jury, “I wouldn’t say so.” 

Jauregui also asked whether there were any actual plates in the vest seized from Tarrio’s luggage. Coble agreed there were none inside the vest, but said he saw photos of plates that were found “within his luggage as well.” 

The defense attorney noted that the government did not show the jury any physical evidence of the plates, rather, their purported existence was based solely on Coble’s in-court testimony. 

Prosecutors face a court order barring them from telling the jury that Tarrio’s misdemeanor arrest warrant stemmed from his burning of a “Black Lives Matter” flag on the eve of a pro-Trump rally in Washington on Dec. 12, 2020. 

U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is presiding over Tarrio’s trial related to the riot. Standing trial alongside Tarrio are Ethan Nordean, a Proud Boys chapter president from Auburn, Washington; self-described Proud Boys organizer Joseph Biggs, of Ormond Beach, Florida; Zachary Rehl, former president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a Proud Boys member from Rochester, New York. 

The indictment states the five defendants “directed, mobilized and led members of the crowd onto the Capitol grounds and into the Capitol, leading to dismantling of metal barricades, destruction of property, breaching of the Capitol building, and assaults on law enforcement.” 

Tarrio and the others each face nine charges, including one count of seditious conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties. Pezzola is also facing a robbery charge. All have pleaded not guilty

A seditious conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in prison. 

The government has so far charged approximately 950 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Jan. 6, about 364 people had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and about 119 had pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 192 people have been sentenced to prison time. 

Tarrio’s trial is expected to resume Thursday. 

Elsewhere in the federal courthouse, a jury heard closing arguments in the trial of four members of a similar far-right group, the Oath Keepers, who are being tried for Capitol riot-related seditious conspiracy. In December, two members of the Oath Keepers were convicted of the rare charge.  

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