A Texas man who was arrested in December on multiple counts of assaulting police officers inside and outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of assault on law enforcement with a dangerous weapon and faces a possible prison term of at least three years and as many as six years.
Lucas Denney, 44, of Mansfield, Tex., created a militia in Texas he called “Patriot Boys of North Texas,” which he said was aligned with the Proud Boys, a far-right group with a history of violence, court records show. Denney was captured on multiple videos and photographs battling with police on the West Terrace of the Capitol, pushing with a mob inside the Capitol, and then as part of a large crowd that grabbed individual officers who were fighting the rioters, including D.C. police officer Michael Fanone.
Photographs show Denney swinging his fist and grabbing at Fanone, who was dragged into the crowd, shocked with a Taser and suffered a heart attack. Denney is also seen picking up a long plastic pipe, swinging it at another officer earlier in the riot, then hurling it in to the police lines. He admitted Thursday to that one act, and that the PVC pipe qualified as a dangerous weapon.
Court records show Denney was arrested Dec. 13 in Kinney County, Tex., near the Mexican border, on eight counts of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, assaulting police with a deadly weapon, engaging in physical violence and other charges. He made his first court appearance the next day. Three days later, he was ordered to be held in jail until trial and was to be moved to D.C. for further proceedings.
But then, as Denney was moved from Texas to a jail in Virginia, the prosecutors and courts lost track of him. Prosecutors and defense attorney John M. Pierce tried to schedule an initial appearance in the District, but court officials never placed one on the docket. Defendants are required to have a preliminary hearing within 14 days and be indicted within 30 days — or 40 days if transportation issues are involved, unless the defendant waives their right to a speedy trial. But as January and February passed, neither a preliminary hearing nor an indictment happened.
Finally on March 5, Denney’s lawyers filed an emergency motion to dismiss the case and for Denney to be released immediately. A hearing was set for the afternoon of March 7. Then, that morning, prosecutors indicted Denney on one count of assaulting an officer.
In the hearing that afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Zia M. Faruqui repeatedly expressed his outrage at the treatment of Denney, who had gone nearly three months without a hearing or a formal set of charges. He apologized to the defendant.
“Mr. Denney,” the judge said, “there’s no excuse to treat a human being like that. It is not how I would want to be treated. And you are presumed innocent. There is no circumstance under which an accused person should be forgotten, and that is what happened here.”
Faruqui said if the prosecutors hadn’t indicted Denney that morning, “I would release you today.” He didn’t release Denney, but he scheduled another hearing for prosecutors to explain themselves.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer M. Rozzoni of New Mexico, one of many assistant prosecutors being detailed to the Jan. 6 prosecution from around the country, acknowledged that the government had broken the required time limits in the case. She said the indictment should be dismissed without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled. She submitted a series of emails between Pierce, prosecutors and court officials showing there were attempts to get Denney into court, but nothing was resolved. Finally, a hearing was set for March 10, almost 90 days after Denney’s initial appearance in Texas.
Rozzoni said she mistakenly thought the speedy trial clock didn’t start until after the initial appearance in D.C. But she also said the harm to Denney’s case was minimal and that preventing the government from refiling charges would be an excessive penalty.
Before both sides could argue that on Thursday, the case took another turn Wednesday: Denney’s lawyers declared his intention to plead guilty to just the one assault charge, avoiding the more serious conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding charge, with a possible sentence of up to 20 years. Prosecutors calculated that Denney faces a sentencing range of 57 months to 71 months, while Denney’s lawyers estimated the range at 41 months to 51 months, with a fine range of $15,000 to $200,000, though judges often waive those, and the largest fine imposed so far has been $5,000.
The case moved to U.S. District Judge Randolph D. Moss for a plea. One of the first things Moss did was warn Denney, “Because you’re pleading without a plea agreement, there’s no guarantee the government won’t pursue additional charges against you. Do you understand that?” The judge also asked Rozzoni if prosecutors planned to file more charges against Denney, and Rozzoni said the government hadn’t decided.
Denney took a recess to discuss it with Pierce and defense attorney William L. Shipley, on video conference from Hawaii. But he stuck with his guilty plea. Shipley said double jeopardy issues might apply if the government sought to prosecute Denney again after he pleaded guilty to assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon.
Court records show Denney allegedly recruited Donald Hazard, 43, of Hurst, Tex., to join him, and Hazard faces even more charges than Denney. Hazard had his first court appearance in the District on Jan. 4, and the government has received a waiver of speedy trial requirements in his case.