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Cell doors nudge open for rioting sheriff’s deputy who assaulted police at Capitol

The Justice Department wants a federal judge to reconsider giving Ronald McAbee his freedom, saying the former Tennessee sheriff's deputy will trample the conditions of his release just as he did his oath of office. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — Emphasizing the pride that the former sheriff's deputy took in storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, prosecutors fought in court Wednesday to overturn release orders from a Tennessee magistrate.

Ronald Colton McAbee, 27, is part of a group charged with dragging a Metropolitan Police officer to the ground and repeatedly striking him in the head and body. Footage from one police officer's body-worn camera shows how McAbee grabbed the officer’s torso while co-defendant Clayton Ray Mullin grabbed the officer’s leg, and the two pulled him back and forth in a sort of tug-of-war. 

When another law enforcement officer came to the first officer’s rescue, McAbee swung at the man with metal-knuckled gloves before returning to finish the job of pulling the first officer down the stairs and pinning him to the ground. 

“These videos are very, very disturbing,” U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said in McAbee’s detention hearing on Wednesday, after Justice Department attorney Colleen Kokowki presented the footage involving McAbee from Jan. 6. 

McAbee was on a two-week medical leave from his position as a Cherokee County sheriff's deputy, having injured his right shoulder in a car accident, when he drove to Washington with brass knuckles he purchased on Amazon and a tactical vest showcasing two patches: one that said “sheriff’ and one with the logo of the Three Percenters, a right-wing extremist organization.

“This was not a momentary lapse in judgement,” Kukowski wrote in the government’s emergency motion to keep McAbee locked up pending trial. “What is extremely troubling about the defendant’s conduct is the severity of his actions and his anticipation of and preparation for violence.” 

What’s more, Kukowski said, McAbee remained proud and earnest about his conduct long after the dust had settled.

In the days following the riot, McAbee texted a friend: “I’ve shed blood for my country. By the hands of the swamp. I will shed much more in the days to come. But I will not forget the Oath I swore years ago to protect the America I once knew. / necisque libertas [liberty or death].” 

McAbee’s defense attorney Isaiah Gant stressed Wednesday, however, that McAbee has scores of letters attesting to his character — qualities that the deputy himself demonstrated when he assisted a rioter in medical distress. Gant is pushing for McAbee to be ordered to home confinement, or other alternatives besides jail. 

Gant also told Sullivan that the government misinterpreted the video footage, saying what it actually shows is McAbee attempting to assist the officer, and only pushing an officer after he was pushed. 

Sullivan said that he wasn’t going to speculate about the videos, which he offered to review later. 

“This is a defendant who has taken oaths before,” Kukowski told Sullivan, mentioning that McAfee went to Washington against medical advice and despite his wife’s protestations. “This is someone who uses his badge of authority when it works for him and disregards it when it does not.”

Kukowski told Sullivan that McAbee cannot be trusted to abide by the conditions of his release. 

“He has a disinclination to not abide by laws he does not agree with,” Kukowski said. “He saw no conflict between his oath to abide by and uphold the law, and what he did on Jan. 6.”

Sullivan said he will rule on the motion within two weeks. 

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