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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Jan. 6 rioter gets 14 years for police attacks, longest sentence yet in inquiry

In an image released and annotated by the Justice Department, Mr. Schwartz, circled in red, carried a wooden tire-knocker on Jan. 6.

By Alan Feuer and Zach Montague

A Pennsylvania welder who attacked police officers at the Capitol with a chair and then chemical spray was sentenced late last week to slightly more than 14 years in prison, the most severe penalty handed down so far in connection with the events of Jan. 6, 2021.

At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Washington, the man, Peter Schwartz, 49, joined a growing list of people charged with assaulting police on that day who have received stiff sentences. Until now, the longest sentence in a Jan. 6 case had been the 10-year term given to Thomas Webster, a former New York City police officer who was found guilty last year of swinging a metal flagpole at an officer at the Capitol.

The sentence could presage more long prison terms to come. In a separate case Friday, prosecutors recommended 25 years in prison for Stewart Rhodes, leader of the Oath Keepers militia, who was convicted of seditious conspiracy in November along with one of his lieutenants. Prosecutors said holding Rhodes accountable at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for May 24, would be essential to preserving American democracy. His punishment, they said, could help decide whether “Jan. 6 becomes an outlier or a watershed moment.”

In the case of Schwartz, who went to the riot armed with a wooden tire knocker, prosecutors had asked Judge Amit P. Mehta for a sentence of 24 years and six months in prison — more than twice Webster’s sentence. While Mehta declined to go that high, he said that his decision to issue a term of 170 months was necessary given Schwartz’s substantial history of violent offenses, and lack of remorse for his actions.

“There are not many who have come before this court with a criminal history like yours,” Mehta said.

Schwartz was convicted at a trial in December of, among other acts, three counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, one count of interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder and one of obstructing the certification of the election, which was taking place inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

In court papers filed last month, prosecutors said that he and his wife at the time made their way to “the thick of the violence” at the west terrace of the Capitol, where they “aggressively participated in the effort to overwhelm the police line.” He later boasted in a text message that he had thrown “the first chair at the cops,” adding, “I started a riot.”

Prosecutors claimed that the chair he hurled created an opening in the police line, enabling hundreds of other rioters to flood the terrace as police officers retreated. Schwartz, the prosecutors added, then stole a canister of pepper spray and other chemical munitions police had left behind and used them “to attack those same officers as they desperately tried to escape the growing and increasingly violent mob.”

Prosecutors noted that Schwartz was on probation in at least one other case involving charges of assault and illegal firearms possession. Schwartz has had nearly 40 prior convictions over more than 30 years for crimes such as assault or threatening officers.

More than two years after the attack, prosecutors told Mehta, Schwartz showed no remorse for his actions, giving several interviews in which he claimed to be the victim of a biased prosecution. During one interview, Schwartz called the trial “the biggest sham I’ve ever seen in my life.”

At the hearing, Schwartz’s lawyer, Dennis Boyle, argued that his client had been steered to the Capitol on Jan. 6 by the lies about fraud in the 2020 election told by former President Donald Trump and his allies. Schwartz knew little about the presidential race and got his information from bad media sources, the lawyer said, adding that the sentence prosecutors requested “reeks of revenge and retribution.”

“There remain many grifters out there who remain free to continue propagating the ‘great lie’ that Trump won the election, Donald Trump being among the most prominent,” Boyle wrote in court papers filed last month. “Mr. Schwartz is not one of these individuals; he knows he was wrong.”

Schwartz offered only a single sentence in his statement to the court, which he read off a sheet of paper from the defense table.

“I do sincerely regret the damage that Jan. 6 has caused to so many people and their lives,” he said.

But Mehta seemed unconvinced, noting Schwartz had continued to appear on podcasts after his conviction, insisting that police had attacked him outside the Capitol and dismissing the charges against him as politically motivated.

“I appreciate you saying what you did today, but I don’t believe it,” Mehta said.

About 450 of the more than 1,000 people charged so far in connection with the Capitol attack have been sentenced. Of those, the Justice Department says, slightly more than half have been ordered to serve at least some time behind bars.

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