Court Battles

Dozens of Capitol riot defendants accused of trying to delete photos, texts

Dozens of the more than 500 people charged in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot have been accused in court documents of attempting to delete photos and other content from their phones and social media accounts to hide their participation in the mob attack. 

According to an analysis from The Associated Press, at least 49 people charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia have been accused of attempting to erase online and mobile phone content from Jan. 6. 

Investigators have been able to track down many of the pro-Trump rioters through photos and videos posted to social media as well as security footage and phone data placing individuals in and around the Capitol building at the time of the attack. 

However, the AP noted that only a handful of riot defendants have actually been charged with tampering with evidence in connection with their deletion of material from phones and social media accounts. 

Tampering with documents or proceedings was one of the charges levied against several alleged members of the right-wing paramilitary group the Oath Keepers in a superseding indictment earlier this year that included additional crimes such as conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding and destruction of government property. 

According to prosecutors, one defendant told Mark Grods, the second Oath Keepers member to plead guilty to conspiracy in connection with the riot, that he should “make sure that all signal comms about the op has been deleted and burned.” 

Additionally, prosecutors said in court documents that the alleged Oath Keepers member and Navy veteran Thomas Caldwell between Jan. 6 and Jan. 16 “did corruptly alter, destroy, mutilate, and conceal a record, document, and other object, and attempted to do so, with the intent to impair its integrity and availability for use in an official proceeding.” 

Prosecutors said Caldwell sent and then unsent a video from the riot and deleted photographs from his Facebook account that apparently “documented his participation in the attack.” 

David Lesperance, a member of a Melbourne, Fla., church led by a father-son duo also charged with participating in the riot, admitted to federal authorities that he took photos and videos while at the Capitol on Jan. 6 “but later deleted them out of fear of negative repercussions.” 

While Lesperance has not been charged with evidence tampering, he faces penalties for allegedly entering a restricted building, disorderly or disruptive conduct, and violent entry on Capitol grounds. 

The AP reported in April that riot defendants were attempting to use journalism as part of their defense, arguing that they were part of the crowd that stormed the Capitol in protest of President Biden’s electoral win in order to live stream and cover the protests for right-wing news sites.

Tags capitol building Capitol riot Capitol riot charges conspiracy charges Joe Biden Oath Keepers social media posts The Associated Press U.S. Attorney's Office Washington D.C.

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