As rioters fought fiercely against police in the Lower West Terrace tunnel of the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, one of the rioters said to D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, “Hey, I’m going to try to help you out here, you hear me?”
Albuquerque C. Head, a recovering drug addict and father of two from Kingsport, Tenn., then slung his arm around Fanone’s neck and dragged him into the roiling crowd just outside the tunnel.
“Hey! I got one!” Head yelled.
The mob descended, beating and kicking Fanone, snatching his Taser and repeatedly shocking him with it, Fanone’s body camera shows. The officer suffered a heart attack and a traumatic brain injury.
“These were some of the darkest acts committed on one of our nation’s darkest days,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said after watching the video from Fanone’s camera. Then she sentenced Head to 7 ½ years in prison, just short of the eight-year maximum for assault on a police officer. It is the second-longest sentence imposed on a Jan. 6 rioter, and the longest for one who pleaded guilty. Jackson also ordered Head to make restitution to the District police for medical expenses they may have covered for Fanone, in an amount to be determined later.
The only rioter to receive a longer sentence was former New York City police officer Thomas Webster, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison last month for assaulting police.
Head, 43, was one of a very few Jan. 6 defendants who declined the judge’s offer to speak at his sentencing. Most defendants have spoken of their remorse or even apologized. Head stared straight ahead and rigidly shook his head. As he was led from the courtroom, he turned and grinned at his fiancee, who wept. He has been in jail since his arrest in April 2021, one of about 80 Jan. 6 defendants who were detained before trial or sentencing.
Investigators used multiple videos from journalists, crowd members, police body cameras and surveillance cameras to document Head’s movement through the crowd outside the Capitol that day and to debunk what Head told the FBI after his arrest.
The videos show him pushing his way to the Lower West Terrace tunnel, moving to the melee with police, being forced back twice and returning twice to the fray. Along the way, someone hands him a gas mask, and then he snatches a police shield. When the police snatch it back, he gestures for another from the crowd behind him, and another shield appears, the videos show.
Head can be seen battling with officers at the glass doors beyond the tunnel, where one officer was briefly crushed, and facing off with Fanone. The officers eventually begin to push the rioters out of the tunnel, at which point Head convinces Fanone that he is trying to help him, then drags him out of the tunnel to the mob.
“Mr. Head had the presence of mind,” Fanone told the judge, “to say maybe there was someone in the crowd that would offer me help … Mr. Head had every intention of dragging me into the mob and subject me to a brutal beating.”
After Fanone was beaten and directly shocked in the neck several times, some of the rioters encircled him to try to get him help. But the videos show Head trying to get back into the group to resume the assault on Fanone. The officer was rescued, but his injuries forced him to retire from the police department.
“I think many see my outspokenness and the attention I have gained,” Fanone said, referring to the interviews and testimonies he has given about Jan. 6, “as a measure of my success. It is not. I would trade all the attention to return to my career. The reason for the suffering I have endured the last 18 months is Albuquerque Head.” He asked Jackson to impose the maximum eight-year term, as did federal prosecutors.
Prosecutors noted they agreed to dismiss a charge with a 20-year maximum, obstructing an official proceeding, in exchange for Head’s guilty plea to the assault charge.
Court records indicated Head was a construction worker with 45 prior convictions in Tennessee beginning at age 18, mostly for misdemeanors but several for assault. Jackson said Head had been addicted to various drugs until achieving sobriety in 2015. His defense lawyer, G. Nicholas Wallace, offered an apology to Fanone and all officers present on Jan. 6, and said Head’s conduct “is reprehensible and needs to be dealt with appropriately.” He asked for a five-year sentence.
Wallace argued in his sentencing memo that Head was not responsible for what happened after Fanone entered the crowd.
“I cannot accept that for one moment,” Jackson said. “When he exposed him to the mercy of the crowd? That forced walk down the steps changed Officer Fanone’s life forever.”
The judge noted that Fanone’s body camera captured one rioter joining the fray, looking down at Fanone and saying, “Oh my God, I’m getting out of here.” But Head did not leave.
“This case falls within the category of the most serious offenders,” Jackson said. “This is one of the most serious cases there is.”
Fanone’s body camera captured something else, after he was dragged out of the mob and lay on the floor unconscious: his partner imploring him, “Mike, stay with me buddy.”
Fanone soon revived, and his first words were, “We take the door back?”
“We did,” his partner said. “We f---ing did.”