United States v. Chrestman

Decision Date26 February 2021
Docket NumberCase No. 21-mj-218 (ZMF)
Citation525 F.Supp.3d 14
Parties UNITED STATES of America v. William CHRESTMAN, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Christopher Berridge, U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia US Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, Washington, DC, for United States of America.

Peter A. Cooper, Washington, DC, for Defendant.


BERYL A. HOWELL, Chief Judge Defendant William Chrestman, along with at least four co-conspirators, enthusiastically participated in the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, with videoclips showing him brandishing an axe handle and donning tactical gear to confront, threaten, and impede the police and to encourage the mob in its assault on the constitutional ritual of confirming the results of the 2020 Presidential Election. As a result of this conduct, he has been charged in a six-count criminal complaint with five felony offenses and one Class B misdemeanor offense. See Crim. Compl. ("Compl.") at 2, ECF No. 2-2. The government seeks review of a magistrate judge's order releasing defendant pending trial on these charges. Gov't's Mot. for Emergency Stay and for Review of Release Order ("Gov't's Mot."), ECF No. 7.

Following a hearing held on February 23, 2021, the government's motion was granted, and defendant was ordered detained pending trial. Min. Entry (Feb. 23, 2021). Set out below are the written findings and reasons underlying this order. See 18 U.S.C. § 3142(i)(1) (requiring that a detention order "include written findings of fact and a written statement of the reasons for the detention"); United States v. Nwokoro , 651 F.3d 108, 112 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (remanding to the district court for a preparation of "findings of fact and a statement of reasons in support of [defendant's] pretrial detention" when a transcription of the detention hearing was insufficient).


Defendant is charged in a criminal complaint with five felony counts: (1) Conspiracy to Commit An Offense Against the United States, specifically, to obstruct law enforcement on the Capitol grounds and inside the Capitol building and to obstruct certification of the vote count of the Electoral College of the 2020 Presidential Election, along with at least four co-conspirators, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 ; (2) Obstructing, Impeding, or Interfering with a Law Enforcement Officer Lawfully Engaged in the Performance of His Official Duties, Incident to the Commission of a Civil Disorder that Adversely Affects the Performance of Any Federally Protected Function, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 231(a)(3) ; (3) Obstruction of an Official Proceeding (the joint session of Congress convened to certify the Electoral College vote), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) ; (4) Threatening to Assault a Federal Law Enforcement Officer, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 115(a)(1)(B) ; and (5) Knowingly Entering or Remaining in Any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1752(a)(1) and (2), with a felony enhancement for carrying a dangerous weapon under § 1752(b)(1)(A). Compl. at 2. He is also charged in an additional count with the Class B misdemeanor offense of Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Grounds, in violation of 40 U.S.C. §§ 5104(e)(2)(D) and (G). Id. The government's evidence of the conduct underlying these charges and proffer in support of pretrial detention is described below, followed by a brief overview of the procedural history.

A. Defendant's Conduct on January 6, 2021

The government proffers that, two months after the November 3, 2020 presidential election, on January 6, 2021, a joint session of the United States Congress convened at the Capitol to certify the vote count of the Electoral College of the 2020 Presidential Election. Compl., Aff. Supp. Crim. Compl. & Arrest Warrant ("Aff.") ¶ 7, ECF No. 2-3. The joint session began at approximately 1:00 p.m., with then–Vice President Mike Pence presiding. Id. By 1:30 p.m., the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate adjourned to separate chambers within the Capitol to resolve an objection raised in the joint session. Id. Vice President Pence continued to preside in the Senate chamber. Id. As the House and Senate proceedings took place, a large crowd of protestors gathered outside the Capitol. Id. ¶ 8. "[T]emporary and permanent barricades were in place around the exterior of the ... building, and U.S. Capitol Police were present and attempting to keep the crowd away from the Capitol building and the proceedings underway inside." Id.

Shortly after 2:00 p.m., a violent mob of rioters "forced entry" into the Capitol, Aff. ¶ 9, and mayhem broke out inside the building, putting an hours-long halt to the electoral vote count while elected representatives, congressional staff, and members of the press hid in terror from the mob, id. ¶¶ 9–10. The joint session, and thus the constitutional ritual of confirming the results of the 2020 Presidential Election, "was effectively suspended until shortly after 8:00 p.m." Id. ¶ 10.

Defendant is a known member of the Kansas City chapter of the Proud Boys, Rough Transcript of Hearing (Feb. 23, 2021) ("Hr'g Tr. (Rough)") at 14:1-25,1 a gang that "describes itself as a ‘pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka Western Chauvinists,’ " and whose members "routinely attend rallies, protests, and other First Amendment–protected events, where they sometimes engage in violence against individuals whom they perceive as threats to their values," Aff. ¶ 19. In the weeks leading up to January 6, 2021, the Proud Boys’ public communications encouraged members to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend the demonstration against the certification of the Electoral College vote. Id. ¶¶ 20–21.

Defendant accepted this invitation and traveled from his home in Kansas all the way to Washington, D.C. to take part in the assault on both the Capitol and the peaceful transition of power. Gov't's Mot. at 4. Photo and video evidence shows defendant on the afternoon of January 6, 2021, shortly before the 1:00 p.m. start of the joint session, standing among and speaking with a large group of Proud Boys near the Capitol, Aff. ¶¶ 22–23, and then marching with the Proud Boys towards the pedestrian entrance to the Capitol grounds, which was guarded by Capitol Police, id. ¶¶ 24, 26. In the photos and video footage, defendant is wearing "a black baseball hat, black framed glasses, a black sweatshirt, black boots, tan gloves, green and tan camouflage pants, and a green tactical vest." Id. ¶ 14. He was carrying a long wooden stick, which was initially wrapped in a blue flag, that the government believes to be an axe handle, and a hard, black helmet marked with a piece of orange tape. Id. ¶¶ 14, 26; Hr'g Tr. (Rough) at 10:20-25.

Video footage and photographs next show defendant and his co-conspirators, each of whom had headgear marked with orange tape similar to that seen on defendant's black helmet, moving to the front of the crowd nearing the Capitol grounds in order to confront the Capitol Police.

Aff. ¶ 26. As the mob advanced towards the Capitol building, knocking down metal police barriers in their path, id. ¶ 27, defendant stood directly in front of Capitol Police officers attempting to guard the building, id. ¶ 28. He yelled at them, "You shoot and I'll take your fucking ass out!" Id. When Capitol Police tried to arrest a member of the crowd, defendant encouraged others to stop the police, saying, among other things, "Don't let them take him!" Id.

As the crowd pressed further still towards the Capitol, overwhelming successive police lines, defendant switched headgear and put on his black helmet, marked with orange tape, and removed the blue flag from his weapon. Id. ¶ 29. He soon traded in his helmet for a gas mask. Id. ¶ 30; Hr'g Tr. (Rough) at 11:6-17. Wearing the gas mask, he turned to address the crowd, shouting "Whose house is this?" and "Do you want your house back?" Aff. ¶ 31. He then told the crowd to "Take it!" Id. This speech is captured on video. Id.

While still outside the Capitol, defendant and his co-conspirators toppled the metal barriers used by Capitol Police to control the crowd. Id. ¶ 32. They subsequently breached the building. Id. ¶ 33. Law enforcement attempted to lower metal barriers in the tunnels underneath the Capitol to seal off areas inside the building from the mob. Id. ¶ 34. Defendant led his co-conspirators in deliberate efforts to prevent Capitol Police from closing the barriers. He can be seen in surveillance footage using his axe handle to obstruct one of the barriers, while all but one of his co-conspirators are seen using their arms, a chair, and a podium to keep other barriers from closing. Id. ¶¶ 34–39.

B. Arrest of Defendant and Search of His Home

In the aftermath of the events of January 6, defendant quickly became aware that he was under investigation and that he might face criminal charges related to his conduct at the Capitol. On January 24, 2021, the Kansas City Star reached out to him about his role in the Capitol riot. Def.’s Detention Mem. ("Def.’s Mem.") at 1–2, United States v. Chrestman , Case No. 21-mj-8023 (D. Kan. Feb. 16, 2021), ECF No. 7. A February 4, 2021 article in the Star reported that "multiple sources had identified [defendant] as a participant in the riot, and had so notified the FBI." Id. at 2. Defendant contacted counsel, and did not attempt to flee, but he did not voluntarily surrender. Id. Nor does the record suggest that he made any effort to distance himself from the Proud Boys after January 6, 2021.

On February 11, 2021, federal law enforcement officers arrested defendant and executed a search warrant at his home in Kansas. Gov't's Mot. at 2, 17. The government proffers, based on notable gaps in the evidence recovered during the search, that defendant may have concealed or discarded evidence...

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