GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – Prosecutors are suggesting that former High Point Police officer Laura Steele spend the next 97 to 121 months in federal prison for conspiring with other members of the Oath Keepers militia group to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Steele, a resident of Thomasville, was convicted on March 20 of six counts for helping the group’s founder and leader, Stewart Rhodes, to disrupt that lawful transfer of power in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rhodes was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Amit Meht to 18 years behind bars and 3 years of supervised release on charges of seditious conspiracy, obstruction of a criminal proceeding and other felonies. His sentence was the largest given out in cases involving the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Another Oath Keeper, Kelly Meggs of Dunnellon, Florida, also was sentenced to 12 years in prison and 36 months of supervised release.
Steele, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 11, was convicted with codefendants Sandra Parker, Connie Meggs (Kelly Meggs’ wife) and William Isaacs on charges that include conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, entering restricted grounds, destruction of government property and others cited in an eighth superseding indictment.
They have a presentencing court appearance scheduled for Aug. 29.
Defendant Bennie Parker (Sandra’s husband) was acquitted of obstruction as well as one conspiracy charge, and Michael Greene was acquitted of two conspiracy charges. All six defendants were convicted of a misdemeanor trespassing offense.
Steele is one of 27 defendants from North Carolina charged for being among the thousands of supporters of former President Donald Trump, allegedly inspired by Trump’s unfounded claims about a stolen election, who stormed the Capitol in a deadly siege designed to disrupt the constitutional process of confirming President Joe Biden’s election in November 2020.
Trump more recently has been indicted by a special prosecutor for his efforts to overturn the election and, with 18 codefendants, by a grand jury in Georgia on racketeering charges for specific alleged efforts to overturn the election in that state. Trump lost the election by about 7 million votes.
As they had with Rhodes, prosecutors in the Steele case recommended that the sentencing could exceed guidelines – ultimately by 30 months – “because these defendants committed offenses that were calculated to influence or affect the conduct of the government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. All five defendants were active participants in the Oath Keepers’ conspiracy to prevent, hinder, or delay the certification proceeding, and to use force, intimidation, or threats to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties during that proceeding.”
In their 63-page memo, prosecutors delineated Steele’s role on Jan. 6, saying she and the others had “calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct.”
She also traveled to Washington with a weapon – although the document says it was not clear she intended to provide the weapon to the Oath Keepers – and had allegedly helped to “forcibly oppose the result” by joining the mob inside the Capitol, where it tried to enter the Senate chamber.
In May, Peter A. Cooper, an attorney for Steele had filed a motion for a new trial, citing an interview a juror in Steele’s case allegedly had given a reporter. There has been no hearing on that motion.
The case against Steele
Steele, Parker, Connie Meggs and Isaacs were convicted of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, aiding and abetting that crime, conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds and two counts of aiding and abetting civil disorder.
Court documents say the group traveled to Washington and, wearing paramilitary clothing that included helmets and vests and bearing Oath Keepers’ identification, overpowered guards and invaded the Capitol through the doors to the rotunda.
Prosecutors at trial said that at around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 6 Rhodes “sent a message on an encrypted group chat announcing that Vice President Michael R. Pence would not intercede to stop Congress’ certification of the Electoral College vote, and so ‘patriots’ were taking matters into their own hands.”
That’s when Steele, her codefendants and other Oath Keepers marched toward the Capitol, penetrated barricades and “joined with 10 co-conspirators in placing hands on shoulders and marching up the steps and into the Capitol in a military ‘stack’ formation.”
The group tried to push past police into the Senate chamber, and then some of them tried to find House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the court documents said.
Steele’s brother, Graydon Young of Englewood, Florida, — mentioned in the indictment against her – pleaded guilty to two counts against him, including conspiracy and was the first Oath Keeper to do so. His plea and an agreement to testify against Rhodes spared him a potential 30 years in prison. During the trial of Rhodes in October, he broke into sobs on the stand and apologized.
Court documents describe how Steele and Young on Jan. 7 allegedly used a backyard burn pit to destroy evidence of the attack, including their clothing.
Militia groups in NC
The Department of Justice says that 29 Oath Keepers members and affiliates were charged for actions on Jan. 6. The document says that 23 “have been convicted for their roles in this conspiracy: these five defendants, their codefendants Greene and Crowl, the nine defendants in Rhodes, and the seven cooperating defendants.”
Steele is one of more than 1,100 members of Oath Keepers in North Carolina – including at least two state legislators – and there also are the Proud Boys, another group of right-wing extremists.
One of that group’s state leaders, Charles Donohoe of Kernersville, pleaded guilty to charges earlier this year and agreed to testify in the sedition trial of Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, who earlier this month also was found guilty of seditious conspiracy.
There were hundreds of injuries to law enforcement officers, death threats on the life of Vice President Mike Pence and others, and, ultimately, seven lives were lost during or after the insurrection.
Most recent court records suggest that more than 1,030 individuals have been arrested in nearly all 50 states. More than 570 have pleaded guilty, and about 500 have been sentenced, including about more than 220 to jail time. Among those from North Carolina who have been charged or convicted, six are residents of the Piedmont Triad.