A Utah cop who was once named Salt Lake City’s “Officer of the Year” has pleaded guilty to storming the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Michael Lee Hardin joined the hundreds of Donald Trump supporters who overran police and breached the Capitol building in an attempt to stop the certification of Joe Biden‘s win in the 2020 presidential election. Prosecutors say he was spotted at multiple locations inside the Capitol building, including next to a cordoned-off bust of Abraham Lincoln.
On Friday, he pleaded guilty to parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.
Prosecutors say Hardin, who was 50 when he joined the pro-Trump mob at the Capitol, was spotted at multiple locations inside the building. Like so many other Jan. 6 defendants, Hardin appears to have been done in by multiple anonymous FBI informants who knew him personally.
One FBI anonymous tipster shared with authorities a picture of Hardin standing next to a bust of Lincoln, whose Emancipation Proclamation in 1963 freed slaves in the Confederate South. A grinning Hardin stood next to the bust that had been placed behind velvet ropes, indicating that the statue was not meant to be touched by visitors. The tipster told investigators that they received the picture from one of Hardin’s relatives, who in turn said they had gotten the picture directly from Hardin himself.
Another informant also identified Hardin to the FBI. On Jan. 7, someone describing Hardin as a “friend” said Hardin called him on Jan. 4 to say he was heading to Washington. This tipster also said Hardin sent multiple text messages on Jan. 6.
“We stormed the Capitol, I am in here now!” he texted.
“I know you don’t like Trump, but He is the rightful President!” he added.
“We will return until we win!” an enthusiastic Hardin also texted.
Hardin had traveled to the Capitol with his stepmother-in-law, Janet Buhler, who pleaded guilty to the same count earlier this month.
At her plea agreement hearing, Buhler said she went into the Capitol to keep an eye on Hardin, who she described as “a little hot-headed.”
As an officer with the Salt Lake City police, Hardin received the “Officer of the Year” accolade in 2012 for his work on a 1986 missing persons case.
At the time, it was believed that Hardin had found the man who killed 20-year-old Patricia Williams. However, as Law&Crime reported, prosecutors had dropped the charges by 2015 when it turned out the suspect had an alibi.
Hardin had also been charged with entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds, and disorderly conduct in a capitol building. Those charges will presumably be dropped in accordance with his guilty plea.
The parading and picketing charge has become the predominant charge to which lower-level Jan. 6 offenders have pleaded guilty. Sentences have ranged from probation only to six months’ incarceration.
Hardin’s sentencing date is set for April 11.
[Images via FBI.]
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