Capitol Riots Caused $1.5 Million Damage

Prosecutors want rioters to pay for it.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. As Congress prepares to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, thousands of people have gathered to show their support for President Donald Trump and his claims of election fraud. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

WaPo (“Jan. 6 riot caused $1.5 million in damage to Capitol — and U.S. prosecutors want defendants to pay“):

U.S. prosecutors this week put a price tag on damage to the U.S. Capitol from the Jan. 6 breach — $1.5 million so far — and for the first time are asking defendants to cover some of the bill in plea offers, prosecutors and defense lawyers said.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Washington cited the damage estimate Wednesday in court and in plea papers filed in the case of Paul Hodgkins, 38. The Tampa crane operator pleaded guilty to one felony count of obstructing an official proceeding of Congress and faces sentencing July 19 in Washington.

“Your client acknowledges that the riot that occurred on January 6, 2021, caused as of May 17, 2021, approximately $1,495,326.55 damage to the United States Capitol,” stated a plea agreement letter sent by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mona Sedky and signed by Hodgkins and his attorney in May.

The document said Hodgkins agreed to pay $2,000 restitution to the Treasury Department as part of the plea.

Several defense attorneys said prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington are seeking to require restitution of $2,000 in each felony case and $500 in each misdemeanor case.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department and U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment beyond court filings.

Offhand, this strikes me as more than reasonable. While fines obviously have disparate impact depending on socioecomic status, these amounts are presumably rather small for people who can afford to travel to DC to riot. Beyond that, these are for actual damages inflicted, not a random punitive amount. Indeed, unless there are a whole lot more defendants than I imagine, these amounts won’t make much of a dent in covering the damage done.

But there seems to be some debate as to whether this is kosher.

One veteran defense attorney representing several defendants, speaking on the condition of anonymity because talks are pending, said the terms remain under negotiation. Another defense attorney, who spoke under the same conditions, questioned whether a judge could sentence a person to pay restitution if they were not actually charged with causing damage.

The basis of the $1.5 million damage estimate is not clear. Prosecutors gave no details, but the estimate appears to reflect the immediate costs of replacing broken windows, doors and other property. A spokeswoman for the Architect of the Capitol said the agency gave damage assessments to the Justice Department, which calculated the per case penalty.

The Capitol is a historical landmark with incredibly expensive fixtures. It’s essentially a museum. It’s not like you can run to the Home Depot and get the supplies and have One Man Handyman do the repairs.

Federal law allows judges at sentencing to order convicted offenders to reimburse victims for property damage and other losses, enforceable over 20 years. Whether restitution can be required usually depends on the crime as set by statute and whether losses are a direct and foreseeable result of an offender’s crime.

But the law also makes restitution a negotiable item pursuant to plea agreement.

If a court finds that more than one defendant contributed to the loss, it “may make each defendant liable for payment of the full amount of restitution or may apportion liability among the defendants,” federal statute said.

Prosecutors appear to be reasoning that all Jan. 6 defendants bear some liability for what happened that day and should pay to repair the Capitol to some degree, even if they are charged separately or entered the Capitol after or where no damage was done.

As we’ve noted many times before, the incident was more than one thing. It’s likely that the majority of the people inside the Capitol, most of whom were not part of the initial violent break-in, were non-violent and non-destructive. It would be outrageous to, say, try to charge those people under the Felony Murder rule. But I don’t have any heartburn with applying the Pottery Barn rule: you broke it, you bought it. Even those who were “aggressive tourists” have some culpability and I don’t see $500, payable over time, as an excessive fine. Indeed:

To spare having to litigate each defendant’s liability or to ask judges to order everyone to pay the full $1.5 million when most couldn’t, “it is likely that the prosecutors are setting an amount that they think most people charged will be able to pay and that collectively will cover the costs of the damage,” said Cortney E. Lollar, a law professor at the University of Kentucky. “This is a way for the prosecutors to set payment amounts in a manner they think is most likely to be collectible.”

Ashton T. Kirsch, a Wisconsin lawyer whose clients include insurers for minority-owned businesses damaged in protests against racial injustice in Minneapolis last year, said the approach will save the government time, money and effort.

“The building was not insured, so the costs are going to fall on taxpayers — on all of us — if it doesn’t fall on the persons who caused the damage,” Kirsch said. “The hard part is what’s more fair — to have it paid by taxpayers or by some broad set of defendants who may or may not have caused the specific damage in question?”

Although, again, we’re unlikely to recover the full $1.5 million this way. Even at the $2000 felony rate, it would require 750 defendants. We’re well short of that thus far and I gather most are being charged with misdemeanors.

And, of course, the property damage inside the Capitol itself is hardly the only damage done. Some of the worst offenders will obviously be on the hook for massive civil suits as well.

FILED UNDER: Capitol Riot, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    questioned whether a judge could sentence a person to pay restitution if they were not actually charged with causing damage.

    Fine. Then let these traitors go to trial and face the maximum penalty.

    [Note: three egregious errors in one sentence and I got the edit button immediately after posting. It’s going to be a great day!]

    6
  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    None of these defendants should do less than a year in stir. A fine on top? Meh, sure, so long as judges don’t make this the primary punishment. I am not unreasonable or vengeful when it comes to sentencing, but the least of the defendants should do a year, and the organizers and instigators, and those who acted violently, should get the full prosecutorial pile-on. Some of these people should do a decade.

    15
  3. Scott F. says:

    Indeed, unless there are a whole lot more defendants than I imagine, these amounts won’t make much of a dent in covering the damage done.

    No need to worry, I’m confident Trump will cover the difference. He’s super rich, we’re told, and it’s self-evident he loves this country beyond measure.

    2
  4. Barry says:

    $1.5 million / 400 = $3,750

    Make it $100/month for 3 years, depending on the wealth of the convicted person.

    3
  5. JohnMcC says:

    Seems to me this is a case where the accused can actually pay their fines and more. Even if the fines are really big. Whatcha bet there are already ‘gofundme’ appeals busy in that world. Really big fines.

    The Atlantic noticed that most of the rioters were over 35. Their average age is 40. 40% of them are business owners or have white-collar jobs. They have socio-economic situations to protect. Really really big fines.

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  6. JohnMcC says:
  7. Michael Cain says:

    The Capitol is a historical landmark with incredibly expensive fixtures. It’s essentially a museum. It’s not like you can run to the Home Depot and get the supplies and have One Man Handyman do the repairs.

    Yeah, I thought only $1.5M? I was on the budget staff for my state’s legislature when restoration work at the State Capitol was funded. Some of the testimony at the Budget Committee was fascinating. “Look, this piece of stone trim is chipped. We know the quarry where it came from, but that particular shade was exhausted decades ago. If we replace just the one section with a different shade, it will stick out like a sore thumb. Rather than replace all the trim in the room, we’re going to pay someone who is very, very skilled to patch the chip with synthetic materials that will be a perfect match. The join will look like a tiny natural crack, and will be invisible if you’re more than a few inches away.”

    3
  8. KM says:

    Tourists who cause damage are can be held liable to fix it even without being officially charged; anyone who’s broken something in a museum or a national park can tell you that yes, you are responsible and will get hit with a fine even if the courts don’t see you on their docket. You damage the Liberty Bell on vacay even accidently and you better believe you’re getting the bill. As the QAnon people have been marketing themselves as “aggressive tourists” and not rioters, they can’t really argue with this common framing. Charge the hell out of them so that when they try and plead it down, we still get some money out of it.

    7
  9. Mu Yixiao says:

    approximately $1,495,326.55

    How the hell is down to the penny “approximate”?

    Tangentially:

    MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Workers repairing damage to the U.S. Capitol during January’s riot are using priceless wood that spent decades sitting in a Madison laboratory.

    The Wisconsin State Journal reported Saturday that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory has been storing nearly 80 mahogany boards it acquired during World War I for research on aircraft propeller material. Research suggest it was harvested in the early 20th century in the Philippines, South America or Africa.

    Officials with the Architect of the Capitol, the agency that maintains the building, plan to use the wood to repair doors and millwork damaged during the Jan. 6 riot.

    The agency says the type of mahogany stored at the lab is no longer available anywhere in the world at any price. The lab shipped the wood to Washington D.C. by truck in February.

    Emphasis added

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  10. Kathy says:

    @KM:

    That’s the second reason why I never touch anything in a museum unless it’s expressly allowed. the first reason is I’m a guest there, and it’s common courtesy to respect the rules.

    2
  11. Jen says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    How the hell is down to the penny “approximate”?

    They dump the latest estimate in there, knowing that additional adjustments may well happen down the road.

    2
  12. Bob@Youngstown says:

    Capitol Riots Caused $1.5 Million Damage

    Don’t you mean property damage?

    The damage that was done to the country is incalculable !

    5
  13. KM says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    How the hell is down to the penny “approximate”?

    I think it’s being used more along the lines of “first blush” or “initial estimate based on what we know” rather than “rounded ballpark figure”.

    Legalese English is not the same as American English. Gotta watch out for those false cognates 🙂

    2
  14. Nightcrawler says:

    Some of the things these thugs destroyed can’t be replaced, like the 19th-century mirror they smashed.

    Yet they scream about “history” when it comes to statues of traitors.

    4
  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    But I heard it was just typical tourists…like every other day at the Capitol.

    2
  16. flat earth luddite says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    but the least of the defendants should do a year

    At least two of their daily meals in lockup should be Nutriloaf. Vengeance and unreasonableness requirements met!

    3
  17. dazedandconfused says:

    @Mu Yixiao:

    How the hell is down to the penny “approximate”?

    Highly likely that spreadsheet already includes some solid numbers from actual invoices. Best guess is (at least) the glass people achieved been there/done that/effin’ billed it status some time ago.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    The poetic justice and irony will not be complete until they are unable to vote because they still owe fines for the costs of their incarceration, which they cannot pay because the federal government can’t tell them exactly how much they owe.

    2