A college student from California who was seen smashing a window to the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 has been sentenced to four months behind bars for destroying government property.
Hunter Allen Ehmke, 21, pleaded guilty in January to felony destruction of government property after he was caught in the act of breaking a window to the Capitol Rotunda on Jan. 6, as scores of Donald Trump supporters swarmed the building and forced their way inside.
While an increasingly violent crowd faced off against police officers trying to protect the Rotunda, Ehmke climbed an unguarded windowsill and began kicking and punching the glass. Police spotted him and quickly took him down, briefly detaining him and taking his identification.
Prosecutors say that Ehmke’s actions left the Capitol building more vulnerable than it already was, forcing police officers to leave the line holding back the crowd in order to apprehend him. According to the government’s sentencing memo, the nearby crowd became “increasingly aggressive” toward the officers who had detained Ehmke, with one man allegedly yelling that they weren’t going to let the officers leave with Ehmke, who was at that point in handcuffs.
As a result, officers told Ehmke to leave Capitol grounds immediately—which he did—and that a warrant would be issued for his arrest.
Ehmke was not among the rioters who entered the building.
The destruction of property charge carried a potential 10-year prison sentence, three years of probation, and a fine of up to $250,000. Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of four months behind bars and three years of probation, while Ehmke had requested a sentence of probation only.
“He Was A Leader.”
At Friday’s sentencing hearing before U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan, Ehmke’s mother, Lisa Ehmke, made an emotional plea on behalf of her son, saying his actions that day were due to a previously-undiagnosed medical condition.
“[After] all the nights I’ve struggled with why and how he was at the Capitol, we have finally figured [it] out and have him in treatment and therapy with the proper diagnosis,” Lisa said. “It is nothing short of answered prayers.”
Lisa Ehmke said that she was scared of what a “setback”—in the form of jail time—would do to him and his efforts to turn his life around, including taking a full load of community college courses, working for his family’s business, and volunteering at a local food pantry.
She also said that her son didn’t appear to understand what was happening that day, or his role in the riot that temporarily stopped Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win and forced lawmakers to either evacuate the building or shelter in place. She said that people in the crowd were screaming at Ehmke to “get involved” and “do something” to support the effort to break into the Capitol.
“Hunter has shared with me he did not know what was going on in the Capitol that day,” she said. “He didn’t hear anything about votes being counted, or the election being certified. He was watching and observing the crowd as he always does.”
She said that when she watches the video of Ehmke smashing the windows to the Capitol building, she sees “a scared … person up there, looking around, not really understanding what’s going on.”
Chutkan, a Barack Obama appointee, had a different take.
“I saw the video,” Chutkan said, adding: “I disagree with the defense’s characterization of Mr. Ehmke as a follower. He was not. He was a leader … in his own small way.”
Chutkan, noting that she has two adult children of her own, said that she empathized with Ehmke’s mother, but that she could not explain her son’s actions away.
“Mrs. Ehmke’s remarks today are borne out of love and an effort to help me better understand her son,” Chutkan said. “But I see that as yet another effort to insulate and protect Mr. Ehmke from the consequences of his actions. I am not doing that.”
Chutkan had noted that Ehmke’s family “have consistently, since childhood, shielded [him] from the consequences and results of his actions: when school wasn’t working out, they put him in an alternative school. When high school [wasn’t working out], they let him travel the world and do homeschooling. He gets in trouble at the Capitol, he calls his parents and they tell him to come home.”
Despite a loving and supportive family, Chutkan said, Ehmke nonetheless “chose to engage in violent criminal activity.”
“I Haven’t Heard Any Words of Remorse.”
As much as Chutkan responded to Lisa Ehmke’s remarks, she also focused on what hadn’t been said.
“One thing struck me in this case,” Chutkan noted. “I haven’t heard any words of remorse.”
“I haven’t seen or heard a single letter about the men or women fighting that day,” the judge said. “Officers afraid they would never get home to see their children, other people who were injured. Employees of our government sitting inside that building trying to do their job that the taxpayers pay them to do, terrified that they were going to die, or be killed, [or] not going to see their family, listening to the sounds of glass breaking [and] wondering if they were going to make it out alive. I haven’t heard a word of what it must have been like for the rest of them … not a single word.”
In the end, Chutkan issued a sentence that matched the government’s recommendation: four months in jail followed by three years of probation. Pursuant to the plea agreement, Ehmke will also have to pay $2,821 in restitution toward the estimated $2.7 million in damage to the Capitol.
“I know that this may not be the outcome you hoped for,” Chutkan told Ehmke at the end of the hearing. “I know you may be scared and devastated about what awaits you, but let me assure you you’re going to come out of this. You’re going to have the rest of your life to continue on the path you’re going on. You are young, you have a loving family, you have resources at your disposal.”
“You are not the worst thing you have ever done,” Chutkan added.
Chutkan said that she would allow Ehmke to self-surrender after he finished his college courses, set to end on June 15.
[Images via FBI court filings.]
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