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Two local men face court in DC over riot at Capitol

As the calendar turns to 2022, people from the Mahoning and Shenango valleys face action in a District of Columbia federal court for alleged offenses that occurred as the nation was debating the legitimacy of the 2020 U.S. presidential election and its aftermath.

Stephen M. Ayres, 39, of Carolewood Circle NW, Champion, is charged in the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol during the electoral vote count. He is scheduled for a Jan. 27 pretrial hearing before Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia’s U.S. District Court.

Ayres’ co-defendant, Matthew Perna, 37, of Sharon, Pa., is scheduled for a change-of-plea hearing Dec. 17 before the same judge. Perna’s attorney Jerry Ingram told a Pittsburgh media outlet there was no plea deal for his client, and Perna is expected to plead guilty to the indictment.

Perna and Ayres are both charged with obstruction of justice / Congress, unlawful entry into restricted buildings or grounds, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds and disorderly conduct in the Capitol building.

Both men had been free on bond since their arraignments. During the early stages of the case, a reporter tried to interview Ayres at his Champion home, but he refused.

Neither prosecutors nor court officials have answered emails to discuss the case. Ayres’ attorney, Eugene Olm, also had refused to answer questions, saying he “was not authorized to speak to the media.”

Cleveland attorney Russell Bensing, who had represented Ayres in his initial court appearance last year, had said the obstruction charge is the most serious felony, while the others are misdemeanors.

THE AFFIDAVIT

According to the affidavit prepared by Austin Price, special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, evidence was provided in support of the charges against Ayres and Perna for their actions on Jan. 6. That’s the day the joint session of Congress was interrupted during the Electoral College vote count when thousands of protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

The affidavit states that multiple tips showed that Ayres and Perna were “of the many who had unlawfully entered the Capitol on that day, and … had posted a video talking about it on social media later that day.”

On Jan. 10, the FBI reviewed the almost 8-minute-long video that depicted three individuals, including Ayres and Perna, describing their experiences inside the Capitol. The same video was posted to YouTube on Jan. 7 by an account “Johnny Anonymous” and was labeled “It was all ANTIFA breaking into the Capitol 1-6-2021.”

Perna said he and Ayers “walked right into the Capitol building” after Antifa “breached the door” so it was left open. Another man with the two also stated the police “escorted” them from one end of the building to the other, according to the video.

The FBI interviewed a witness Jan. 16 who had told them about both men’s presence at the Capitol on Jan. 6. That witness was one of Ayres’ family members, according to the affidavit. The witness had told the FBI he had watched Ayres’ streaming live video on Jan. 6, and in it, the witness said Ayres was acting “like he was at war” and there was a lot of “yelling and screaming going on.”

At one point during the livestreamed video, the witness stated that Ayres said the Jan. 6 incident was “just the beginning.”

BACKGROUND

Federal prosecutors in court documents state that the investigation and prosecution of the Capitol breach will be the largest in American history, both in terms of the number of defendants prosecuted and the nature and volume of the evidence.

In the months since the incident, more than 500 individuals located throughout the nation have been charged with a multitude of criminal offenses, including but not limited to conspiracy, tampering with documents or proceedings, destruction and theft of government property, obstruction of law enforcement during civil disorder, assaults on law enforcement, obstruction of an official proceeding, engaging in disruptive or violent conduct in the Capitol or on Capitol grounds, and trespass.

There were investigations opened in 55 of the FBI’s 56 field offices.

According to a Washington Post analysis of the events, “the mob on the west side eventually grew to at least 9,400 people, outnumbering officers by more than 58 to one.

EVIDENCE GATHERED

According to documents provided to all breach defendants, an illustrative list of evidence was accumulated by the government from such sources as:

∫ Thousands of hours of closed circuit video from sources including the U.S. Capitol Police, the Metropolitan Washington Police Department and United States Secret Service, and several hundred Metro Police Automated Traffic Enforcement camera videos;

∫ Footage from Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network (C-SPAN) and other media members;

∫ Thousands of hours of body-worn camera footage from Metro Police, Arlington County Police Department, Montgomery County Police Department, Fairfax County Police Department, and Virginia State Police;

∫ Radio transmissions, event chronologies, and, to a limited extent, Global Positioning Satellite records for Metro Police radios;

∫ Hundreds of thousands of tips, including at least 237,000 digital media tips plus millions of posts and videos from the Parler app.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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