Member of Oath Keepers to plead guilty to role in U.S. Capitol attack

By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A member of the right-wing Oath Keepers militia group is due to plead guilty on Wednesday to charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.

The man, Graydon Young, is one of 14 members of the Oath Keepers group charged with crimes including conspiracy and obstruction of an official proceeding for taking part in the assault on Congress, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.

A court filing said a “plea agreement hearing” is scheduled for Wednesday, but did not specify to which charges the 54-year-old resident of Engelwood, Florida, will plead. Young is the brother of Laura Steele, 52, of Thomasville, North Carolina, who also faces charges in the case.

More than 480 people have been arrested and charged with taking part in the unrest, which saw rioters smash windows, battle police inside and outside the Capitol and sent lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence into hiding.

Another defendant, Robert Reeder, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

A judge on Wednesday is also scheduled to hand down the first criminal sentence to one of the Capitol rioters. Anna Morgan-Lloyd, 49, of Bloomfield, Indiana, agreed last month to plead guilty to a single charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. Federal prosecutors have recommended three years of probation, a $500 fine, and 40 hours of community service.

“There is no evidence that the defendant poses a continuing threat to the public or that she will engage in similar conduct in the future,” prosecutors said in their sentencing memo, adding that a three-year probationary term will place her under government supervision “for a significant period of time.”

Federal prosecutors said in court papers that Young on Dec. 22 made plans to fly from Florida to North Carolina on Jan. 4, with a return trip on Jan. 8. On Dec. 26, prosecutors said, he wrote to a Florida company engaged in firearms and combat training: “I have joined Oath Keepers. I recommended your training to the team. To that effect, four of us would like to train with you.”

The indictment says Young and eight other indicted Oath Keepers pushed their way in a “stack” up the steps on the east side of the Capitol building.

His plea hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET (1800 GMT) on Wednesday.

The Oath Keepers are a loosely organized group of activists who believe that the federal government is encroaching on their rights, and “explicitly focus” on recruiting current and former police, emergency services and military members.

Reeder, a 55-year-old Maryland resident, pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building. He faces a maximum of six months in prison.

During a court hearing, Reeder’s attorney stressed that his client “didn’t touch anything” or “destroy anything” or “physically engage in any kind of resistance” while he was inside the Capitol.

Reeder told the judge he used to work for the U.S. Transportation Security Administration, but since he was charged, he was not been able to work and has been forced to rely on random “odd-jobs” such as painting a friend’s house. “My security clearance was revoked,” Reeder said.

He is due to be sentenced on Aug. 18.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. Supreme Court weighs scope of police power to enter homes without a warrant

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Supreme Court justices on Wednesday appeared reluctant to give police unlimited power to enter a home without a warrant when pursuing a suspect for a minor crime in a case involving a California driver tailed by an officer after honking his horn while listening to music.

The driver, Arthur Lange, was later convicted of driving under the influence after being confronted inside his garage by California highway patrol officer Aaron Weikert in 2016. Lange is seeking to overturn his conviction by arguing that sobriety test evidence in the case was obtained by Weikert in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.

The nine justices heard arguments in the case and are due to rule by the end of June. A broad decision finding that any police pursuit, whatever the nature of the suspected offense, justifies a warrantless entry appears unlikely based on comments by the justices.

“It seems ridiculous when your home isn’t your castle for terribly minor things,” liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said.

Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts raised the example of teenagers fleeing back to their homes after being caught drinking beer in a park as an example of a situation in which warrantless entry would be inappropriate.

“It doesn’t seem to be something that would warrant the officer, you know, breaking into the house,” Roberts said.

After observing Lange driving and honking his horn, Weikert began following him and intended to stop him for violating local noise restrictions, a minor infraction that carries small fines, but did not immediately turn on the police vehicle’s emergency lights, according to filings in the case.

Lange was already in his driveway when the officer caught up with him and activated his emergency lights. Weikert pulled into the driveway as Lange was driving his car into his garage. Lange later said he did not know the officer had been following him.

The garage door was just about to close when Weikert stuck his foot under the door, preventing it from shutting.

Weikert said he smelled alcohol and ordered Lange to take a sobriety test. Lange was found to be more than three times over the legal limit and was charged with driving under the influence (DUI) and a noise infraction.

Lower courts ruled against Lange, deeming the incident a “hot pursuit” that allowed a warrantless entry. The justices potentially could rule that the incident was not a “hot pursuit,” meaning a warrant would have been needed.

Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas referred to it as a “kind of meandering pursuit.”

Such a ruling still could allow police to enter houses without warrants in certain circumstances even if the underlying crime was a misdemeanor.

Lange pleaded no contest to the DUI offense and was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation.

The California Court of Appeals in 2019 upheld Lange’s conviction. Lange then asked the Supreme Court to rule that police officers cannot evade the warrant requirement when chasing someone to their home when the underlying conduct constitutes a misdemeanor offense.

Under Supreme Court precedent, officers can enter a home without a warrant when they are in pursuit of a suspected felon.

The issue of police powers has been in the spotlight particularly during protests in many cities last year against police brutality and racism. A broad ruling in favor of police could further expand their powers by widening their ability to enter homes without a warrant after pursuing people suspected of misdemeanor offenses, not just felonies.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)