HIGH POINT, N.C. (WGHP) – Federal prosecutors argue in a memo filed Friday that former High Point Police officer Laura Steele was more than an aimless wanderer when she entered the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and deserves to be “swiftly and severely punished.”
Steele, a resident of Thomasville, had asked for leniency from the court on the nearly 10 years in prison that prosecutors are suggesting for her role in the extremist group the Oath Keepers plot and execute a plan to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Steele’s attorney, Peter Cooper of Washington, D.C., wrote that she regretted following along with others who lured her – including former president Donald Trump and her brother, Oath Keepers member Graydon Young – to fall in line at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an effort to interfere with the lawful transfer of power to duly elected President Joe Biden.
Steele was convicted on March 20 of six counts for helping the Oath Keepers founder and leader Stewart Rhodes in a bid to keep Trump in power. She and codefendants Sandra Parker, Connie Meggs and William Isaacs were found guilty of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, entering restricted grounds, destruction of government property and other charges cited in an eighth superseding indictment.
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.
They are to be sentenced on Sept. 11, and prosecutors are suggesting that Steele spend the next 97 to 121 months in federal prison. Their presentencing hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Court documents show that Steele’s sentencing, originally scheduled for Wednesday, had been delayed until September to allow her an opportunity to go on a family vacation. She is required to appear in some fashion on Tuesday.
But the prosecutors, in a memo authored by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, responded to Steele’s request for leniency by writing that their original presentencing memo “accurately applied specific offense characteristics for the relevant conduct of these defendants and their co-conspirators.”
The memo takes exception to the claim by Steele that she was like those who “wandered aimlessly” through the Capitol and that she and the others “set themselves” apart in their conspiracy.
“As this Court observed in sentencing the leader of this conspiracy, Stewart Rhodes, ‘Collective criminal agreement — partnership in crime — presents a greater potential threat to the public than individual dealings. Concerted action both increases the likelihood that the criminal object will be successfully attained and decreases the probability that the individuals involved will depart from their path of criminality,’” Graves wrote.
“[T]hese defendants posed a far greater threat than individual defendants on January 6. Their collective action made them more effective. It also inspired others: the image of twelve helmet-and-camouflage-clad Oath Keepers marching hands-on-shoulder up the steps of the Capitol fired up the crowd and encouraged other rioters to press forward in their attack.”
She wants home detention
Writing on behalf of Steele, Cooper’s memo had argued that she and others just went along with the crowd that entered the Capitol in a violent insurrection, which led to seven deaths, hundreds of injuries, thousands of charges and hundreds of prison sentences.
He asked that Judge Amit Mehta, who also oversaw the trial of Rhodes and the case involving Young, to reduce Steele’s sentence to 6 months of home detention on each count, followed by a period of supervision that includes community service, with the oversight to become unsurprised after community service is completed.
Prosecutors seek ‘a significant sentence’
But Graves and the government say the facts of the case and sentencing guidelines “call for a significant sentence of incarceration for each of these defendants. Such a sentence is both appropriate and necessary to satisfy the … factors this Court must consider at sentencing.
“A significant sentence of incarceration would appropriately reflect the grave nature of the offense. It would deter these defendants from committing such conduct in the future. And it would send an appropriate message that any future criminal efforts to interfere with our democratic process will be swiftly and severely punished.”
Leniency once given
Although Mehta has been firm in sentencing most Jan. 6 defendants – including the 18 years given to Rhodes – he has at times shown some leniency.
In November, Mehta sentenced Matthew Mark Wood of Reidsville to 3 years of probation, including 12 months of home detention, 100 hours of community service and $2,000 restitution.
Wood had pleaded guilty to charges of obstruction of an official proceeding and aiding and abetting, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly and disruptive conduct in the Capitol building. Prosecutors had asked for 57 months of incarceration.
But Wood, 23, in his request for leniency also had said he was misled by Trump’s false claims of a stolen election and that he acted spontaneously. He wrote a personal letter to Mehta to plead his case, and his attorney called him a “pawn for the agitators.”
‘Tried to use terror’
Steele, court documents argue, was one of those agitators who “donned military style clothing and gear and marched with their co-conspirators into the Capitol building or grounds to lend their bodies to the conspirators’ effort to interfere with Congress’ certification of the election.
“In so doing, these defendants tried to use terror to influence the government, and they threatened the foundation of our democracy. A significant sentence of incarceration is the only appropriate sentence for these defendants.”
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.”
Statistics for Jan. 6
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.