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Thursday, May 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Trial begins for county official who joined Capitol mob scene

Before the Otero County, New Mexico, commissioner attempted to overthrow the American government last year, he created a political action committee called Cowboys for Trump.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The whereabouts of former Vice President Mike Pence throughout the day of Jan. 6, 2021, took a big focus Monday as a bench trial kicked off for a New Mexico county commissioner who joined the insurrection.

Couy Griffin is the second Capitol riot case to go to trial, though his fate will be decided by a judge. Earlier this month, Guy Reffitt, the first Capitol rioter to go to trial, was unanimously found guilty by a jury. As of this morning, Reffitt is already fighting that outcome.

Griffin, who is commissioner of Otero County, N.M., did not physically enter the Capitol building on Jan. 6. As the riot was underway, however, Griffin climbed a stone wall outside the Capitol building and stood with the mob under an inaugural stage for more than an hour.

The 48-year-old is charged with two misdemeanor offenses, disorderly conduct and entering and remaining in a restricted area, which both carry up to one year in prison.

Needing to show that the area where Griffin stood was indeed restricted, the government emphasized Monday that the U.S. Secret Service has secured the grounds of the Capitol on Jan. 6 because then-Vice President Pence was there as part of a ceremony to certify the 2020 election results. Griffin had been a big supporter of President Donald Trump's failed reelection campaign, even creating a political action committee called Cowboys for Trump in 2019.

On Monday, the commissioner's attorney Nick Smith spent much of the hearing arguing that Couy's time in the restricted area did not overlap with Pence's. Prosecutors insist, however, that Pence’s actual whereabouts did not matter. The law, according to the government, requires only that Pence was planning to return to the area. 

At the end of the hearing, prosecutors called U.S. Secret Service Agent Lanelle Hawa to the witness stand. Hawa dealt a huge blow to Griffin’s defense by testifying that Pence remained for hours in an underground loading dock area within the restricted perimeter during the riot.

On cross-examination, Smith shifted his focus toward questions on whether the Capitol Police or Secret Service determined the restricted area perimeter and which agency was in charge of it.

U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden, a Trump appointee presiding over Griffin's trial, told Smith at the end of the hearing that he had not yet proven Pence ever left the area. 

Hawa is set to return for more questioning at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. 

During Monday’s hearing, three of Griffin’s constituents filed a sued in New Mexico to remove him from office and disqualify him from holding any public office in the future.

“Because Defendant took an oath as an ‘officer of [a] State’ to ‘support the Constitution of the United States’ and then ‘engaged in insurrection’ and/or gave ‘aid or comfort’ to insurrectionists, he is disqualified from federal and state office under Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment and has forfeited any right to hold such office,” the 34-page complaint states.

The trio are also asking a judge to declare that the attack on the Capitol was an “insurrection” under Section Three of the 14th Amendment.

Follow @EmilyZantowNews
Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics

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