Protester Gets Prison Time for Inauguration Day Violence

WASHINGTON (CN) – A Florida man who incited a riot in Washington during the inauguration of President Donald Trump received a four-month prison sentence Friday.

Dane Powell, 31, pleaded guilty in April to urging or inciting a riot and assault of a police officer after breaking windows and throwing rocks at officers during the large protests that turned violent in northwest Washington during the January inauguration.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz with the D.C. Superior Court sentenced Powell to 36 months in prison, but suspended all but four months of the sentence, minus the five days Powell spent in jail following his arrest. The sentence marks a reduction from the one requested by the government, which wanted a 36-month sentence with all but six months suspended.

Powell will also have two years of supervised probation and three years of suspended supervised release, Leibovitz ruled Friday.

On inauguration day, Powell, who lives in Tampa Bay, joined the “black bloc” group of protesters, a collection of people know to show up at peaceful protests wearing all-black clothing with the hopes of stirring up chaos. During Friday’s sentencing hearing, the prosecution showed footage from the protest that caught Powell smashing two windows and hurling a rock or brick at a line of police.

Dressed in all black, with his face partially obscured, Powell is seen in the video carrying a hammer, a gas mask and a black flag on a thick wooden pole.

Defense attorney Ashley Jones did not contest that Powell is the one in the video, marching with the other black bloc protesters and smashing windows at businesses in northwest Washington.

The video also shows Powell as part of a group of protesters who, after police cornered them at an intersection, counted down and charged the police line in unison. Powell broke though the line and can later be seen moving a police bike that officers were using to block off the protests.

The video also included still pictures taken by undercover officers who had joined the protests, showing Powell preparing to throw a large block of concrete at a line of police in the distance.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff acknowledged that there is no way to know whether Powell hit any police officers with the rocks and clumps of concrete he threw, but noted that one officer was knocked unconscious during the protests and that others were taken to the hospital.

“The video and photographic evidence is clear, the defendant purposefully and repeatedly engaged in violent, assaultive and destructive conduct,” the government’s memorandum in support of sentencing states. “Further, the evidence shows that this was planned and violent criminal behavior.”

Calling him a “violent coward,” Kerkhoff said that Powell was not simply whipped up by the excitement of the protests as he had claimed in previous filings, but that he came to Washington armed with a hammer and a thick pole with the intent of causing damage. 

“You hid your face, you charged the police, you threw rocks and ran,” Kerkhoff said at the hearing. “That’s cowardly.”

But Jones painted a different picture of Powell, telling Leibovitz of his service in the Army as well as his participation in the Standing Rock protests and his volunteer work at a local homeless shelter.

Jones said Powell is “unapologetic about his politics but that he does apologize for his conduct.” The attorney also read a letter from a Greensboro, N.C., woman who said Powell helped move her child from the heart of the inauguration protests after police started spraying mace and firing flash-bang grenades into the crowd.

Footage played by the defense included pictures of Powell in his Army uniform, and with his family and at the Standing Rock protests, overlaid with recorded statements from family members and friends who testified about how Powell had helped them.

“Mr. Powell has joined with others to create a world where everyone is treated with humanity and where our environment is protected,” Jones said at the hearing.

Before Leibovitz issued her sentence, Powell read a brief statement in which he took responsibility for his conduct on the day of the inauguration. Dressed in a button-down shirt and with his long, black hair tied up, Powell had to take a moment to gather himself before being able to speak after seeing the video.

“I’m a political activist, veteran, father and friend,” Powell said.  

Leibovitz later said she gave “great weight” to his pleading guilty, noting he is the first of the group of people charged for their roles in the protests to have done so.

Supporters of Powell packed the second-floor courtroom, having organized a gathering at a nearby Metro station in a Facebook  group. The description of the event on Facebook claims police and prosecutors have coerced guilty pleas from people arrested at the protests, though Powell’s attorneys raised no such allegations on Friday.

Last month, four people arrested in the protests filed a federal lawsuit claiming the Metropolitan Police Department abused them with rectal probes and unnecessary groping after their arrests.

 

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