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Search is on to prosecute hundreds who broke into Capitol building – Press Enterprise


Criminal charges are coming for those who took part in storming the Capitol building on Wednesday, an unprecedented attack by an armed mob on the heart of U.S. government that sent the vice president and House members and senators fleeing.

Wide-ranging federal and local investigations are already underway, with FBI officials pledging to track down rioters seen in social media videos and news footage swarming over the Capitol, breaking doors and windows, fighting with police and ransacking the offices of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other representatives.

“Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in a statement.

Thousands of people were drawn from all over the country to the lawn outside the Capitol on Wednesday for a rally with President Donald Trump. The violence began immediately after, with rioters overwhelming hundreds of Capitol police officers.

Now comes the immense task of tracking down all of those who participated, and prosecuting them. With so few police on hand at the time of the initial attack, there seemed to be few arrests inside the Capitol or on the grounds outside. Only 13 people were arrested in the immediate aftermath, according to the Capitol Police.

That could create a huge burden for U.S. prosecutors.

“We have to … collect video footage to try to identify people and then charge them, and then try to execute their arrest. So that has made things challenging,” said acting U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. Michael Sherwin to reporters on Thursday. Authorities also will review cell phone location data.

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Sherwin said hundreds who were inside the building were not arrested. “I can’t answer why those people weren’t zip-tied as they were leaving the building by the Capitol Police,” he said.

In all, 68 people have been arrested so far, according to the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. At least 56 officers were injured, with two hospitalized. Police seized six guns from the arrested suspects, and they found two pipe bombs left in the vicinity of the Capitol.

At least four people died in the attack — one, a woman, was shot, and three others died of medical emergencies.

Sherwin said prosecutors would consider charging some people with insurrection and rioting. He would not rule out investigating Trump for his part in inciting the crowd to attack.

Other legal experts said Thursday the rioters could potentially be charged with conspiracy to interfere with the U.S. government.

Already, at least two people have been identified as California residents who traveled to Washington, D.C. for the rally. Metro Police identified the woman who died as Ashli Babbitt, a U.S. Air Force veteran from San Diego.

And a California woman was arrested for a curfew violation near the Capitol Building, according to a list of arrestees Metro Police released Thursday.

Officials in the FBI and Department of Justice offices in Los Angeles declined to say whether there were any individual cases pending for California residents who were present for the Capitol riot. All current cases, including for any Southern California residents, could end up being handled through the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office.

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Lawrence Rosenthal, a former federal prosecutor in Chicago who teaches at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, said the lack of preparation by police in Washington, D.C. would severely hamper any federal prosecutions. He said without arrests on the scene, just identifying suspects would be a massive challenge.

“Just because you have a photograph of someone doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to prove anything they did beyond a reasonable doubt,” he said.

He said an aggressive prosecutor could seek to charge the rioters with seditious conspiracy. But that would be rare for most federal prosecutors.

To help track down suspects, the FBI set up a tips website where anyone can submit photos or videos of those engaged in the attack. Much of the fight was broadcast on social media. Some rioters even identified themselves.

Police have been using similar websites for years. In response to a wave of looting and arsons over the summer following anti-police protests, the Long Beach Police Department set up an evidence portal through the same company that provides its body-worn cameras.

Detective Denise Green said police tracked down suspects by combing through hundreds of hours worth of submissions, passing along relevant evidence to a team of detectives. Some suspects were also identified through tipsters and facial recognition technology.

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