Insurrectionist given two weeks in jail for trying to disrupt Congress | Courthouse News Service
Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Insurrectionist given two weeks in jail for trying to disrupt Congress

Despite no prior criminal record, messages sent by Leonard Pearson Ridge ahead of last year’s Capitol riot convinced a federal judge he should serve some jail time.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A 20-year-old Pennsylvania man was sentenced to two weeks in jail Tuesday for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol after voicing support for disrupting the peaceful transfer of power.

Leonard Pearson Ridge was 19 when he shared his hopes of stopping the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win. 

“I think we are going to try to block the session of [C]ongress,” he texted a friend before the insurrection, according to court documents. He had also previously told a friend on social media that he thought the election was stolen and something must change.

For awhile, it seemed like his wish might come true. The certification of Biden's victory was delayed for hours as Ridge and thousands of others stormed the Capitol to demand former President Donald Trump be declared the winner based on unfounded claims of voter fraud. Lawmakers eventually voted to certify the election results later that evening.

Video clips from Ridge’s own Snapchat feed, along with footage of what appears to show the defendant cheering as he wandered the halls of Congress, were all entered into evidence, which lead to his October guilty plea for entering and remaining in a restricted building. 

Though Ridge lacked a criminal record and his friends and family wrote letters speaking to his character, it was the pre-riot text message that helped inform U.S. District Judge James Boasberg's decision to sentence him to 14 days in jail. 

“Given your intent and your actions in the Capitol, I believe some jail time is appropriate,” the Barack Obama appointee said of the text during Tuesday's sentencing hearing.

“That intent strikes at the bedrock of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power,” the judge added. “Your statements show you intended to block the peaceful transfer of power, a serious criminal act.”

The sentence also included a $1,000 fine, 100 hours of community service and a year of supervised release. 

That was less than the government’s requested punishment of 45 days in jail, though more than Ridge’s hope for avoiding jail entirely. He’s due to start his brief period of incarceration in early March. 

Other Jan. 6 defendants with hearings Tuesday included Joseph Irwin, a former sheriff's deputy in Kentucky. He’s been charged with unlawful entry and disorderly conduct in a restricted building and unlawfully demonstrating in the Capitol building, but has pleaded not guilty. 

Volunteer firefighter Michael Rusyn of Pennsylvania was scheduled for a sentencing hearing but the proceeding ended without comment from counsel or a judge. Texas man Sean David Watson also had a status conference regarding his charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.

Father and son duo Daryl and Daniel Johnson were also set to go for a status hearing Tuesday. Daryl was arrested in Minnesota while his father, the former mayor of  St. Ansgar, Iowa, was picked up in his home state back in June. 

After bragging about crowd sizes and posting photos of themselves entering the Capitol on social media, the two had a plea agreement hearing late Tuesday afternoon for charges including civil disorder and disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building. In court documents posted Tuesday evening, the government appeared to offer the duo the chance to plead guilty to obstruction charges. Specifics of their sentence would still be up to a judge, but the documents note a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.   

A status conference was also held for John Earle Sullivan, a Utah-based political activist and crowd-funded video journalist who filmed and sold video of congressional officers fatally shooting rioter Ashli Babbitt. While he’s fighting broader criminal charges related to his actions on Jan. 6, Sullivan is also seeking to claw back $90,000 taken by the feds in May after they linked the funds to the sale of the controversial video. 

“Funds Sullivan obtained by filming and selling footage of the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots... would not have existed but for Sullivan’s illegal participation in and encouragement of the riots, property destruction, and violence inside the U.S. Capitol,” according to the original seizure warrant, which also points to other video taken by Sullivan which features him encouraging rioters with statements like, “We accomplished this shit. We did this together. Fuck yeah! We are all a part of this history,” and, “Let’s burn this shit down.”

But U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, no relation to the defendant, issued an order in December denying the release of the funds. While the activist has since filed a motion to reconsider that denial, the Bill Clinton appointee did not address the issue Tuesday and instead set a March 4 trial date for Sullivan.

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Categories / Criminal, Government, National

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