A Disputed Witness at the Proud Boys Sedition Trial: A Police Officer

In the normal course of a trial, it is the government — not the defense — that calls law enforcement officers as witnesses.

But as the sedition case of five members of the Proud Boys moves toward trial, the defense and the prosecution are squabbling over an unusual law enforcement witness: a Washington, D.C., police officer who has been asked to take the stand by the defendants.

The witness at the center of the fight is Lt. Shane Lamond, a decorated, 22-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department who served as an intelligence specialist in the months surrounding the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. After the 2020 election, as the Proud Boys went to Washington for a series of pro-Trump rallies, Lieutenant Lamond developed a professional relationship with members of the far-right group — especially Enrique Tarrio, its leader at the time.

Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers claim that as Jan. 6 drew near, their client was in close and constant contact with Lieutenant Lamond and ultimately told him that the Proud Boys planned that day simply to protest the results of the election and then spend the evening with “plenty of beer and babes.”

While that, of course, is not at all what happened on Jan. 6 — members of the Proud Boys were integral to the storming of the Capitol building — the lawyers have subpoenaed Lieutenant Lamond to appear at the trial and want him to take the stand to bolster their defense case. They intend to argue that the Proud Boys could not have committed sedition by using force against the government if they voluntarily told a high-ranking officer what they were going to do that day.

Last week, however, the Justice Department threw a wrench into their plans.

At a hearing in Federal District Court in Washington, prosecutors revealed that they have been investigating Lieutenant Lamond’s relationship with Mr. Tarrio for months. Only days ago, they reminded him that he could face criminal charges.

Given the risks he faces, Lieutenant Lamond has gotten cold feet about testifying, Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers say. He now intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if the Proud Boys call him as a witness.

All of this, coming with the trial set to begin in two weeks, has prompted the defense to accuse the government of using the threat of charges as a means of silencing Lieutenant Lamond — a claim that prosecutors have rejected as “categorically false.”

On Monday, Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers asked Judge Timothy J. Kelly, who is handling the case, to force the government to confer immunity on Lieutenant Lamond — a move that would allow him to testify without fear of charges. Barring that, the lawyers have asked Judge Kelly to toss the indictment against Mr. Tarrio.

Whatever the judge decides, the spat over Lieutenant Lamond gives a hint of the complexities that the government has faced in bringing seditious conspiracy charges in connection with the Capitol attack.

Last week, Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the Oath Keepers militia, was convicted of sedition charges, but during a seven-week trial his lawyers sought to argue that the far-right group had no plan to storm the Capitol. They also raised similar claims that the government had used the threat of charges to pressure potential witnesses in the case not to testify.

A lawyer for Lieutenant Lamond did not respond to messages seeking comment. But his involvement in the Proud Boys case also sheds new light on the ways the organization has cultivated contacts in local police departments over the years. Often those contacts have led to criticism that officers have allowed the far-right group to get too close to them.

Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers say that he was in touch with Lieutenant Lamond both in person and by phone before the group took part in two large pro-Trump marches in Washington after the election: one on Nov. 14, 2020, the other a few weeks later on Dec. 12.

As Jan. 6 approached, the lawyers say, Mr. Tarrio gave Lieutenant Lamond several details about his and his group’s activities that day: He revealed where he would be staying, where and when the Proud Boys would be marching, and how the group intended to leave its typical black-and-yellow uniforms at home that day and take part in the rally “incognito.”

“How can there be sedition if the Proud Boys are telling law enforcement their plans?” Sabino Jauregui, one of Mr. Tarrio’s lawyers, said at last week’s hearing.

The government has not said much about its investigation of Lieutenant Lamond, which led to his suspension in February.

The inquiry has focused — at least in part — on allegations that he improperly gave Mr. Tarrio sensitive information about his own department’s investigation of the Proud Boys’ role in an attack on a Black church in Washington after the pro-Trump rally in December 2020, according to people familiar with the matter.

On the night of the rally, Mr. Tarrio, accompanied by a group of his compatriots, tore down and then set fire to a Black Lives Matter banner hanging at the church. He was arrested on vandalism charges — and for possessing two high-capacity rifle magazines — when he returned to Washington on Jan. 4, 2021.

A local judge kicked Mr. Tarrio out of the city, keeping him from being there for the events of Jan. 6.

The government intends to dwell on that rally in December during the trial, telling the jury how several members of the Proud Boys were injured that night in a fight with leftist counterprotesters. Prosecutors plan to argue that the group blamed law enforcement for the violence and that, after years of supporting officers, Mr. Tarrio and his four co-defendants — Joseph Biggs, Ethan Nordean, Zachary Rehl and Dominic Pezzola — suddenly turned against the police.

That has made the potential testimony of Lieutenant Lamond all the more important to the case. If he is permitted to take the stand, he could rebut the claim that the Proud Boys went into Jan. 6 fearing or angry at the police.

“Tarrio was not afraid of the police,” his lawyers’ recent court papers say, “but rather he collaborated, cooperated and confided with the police.”

Sumber: www.nytimes.com

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