A 31-year-old Tampa man became the first protester arrested during the Jan. 20 inauguration of President Trump to receive a jail sentence Friday when he was ordered to serve four months.
Dane Powell asked Judge Lynn Leibovitz for “leniency” as he stood next to his attorneys in the crowded courtroom and awaited his sentence.
“I stand before you today asking for forgiveness for anyone who was scared, hurt or felt threatened by me on that day,” Powell said in D.C. Superior Court, his voice choking with emotion.
The rioting during President Trump’s inauguration festivities lasted about 30 minutes. Powell and other rioters traveled 16 city blocks, prosecutors said. Six police officers were injured, and vehicles and store windows experienced tens of thousands of dollars of damage.
Authorities said 234 people were arrested and accused of rioting. Of those, 198 cases are pending.
In April, Powell pleaded guilty to assault on a police officer and inciting a riot, both felonies. Fifteen other people have pleaded to misdemeanor charges; 20 cases were dismissed.
During Friday’s sentencing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff played a 10-minute compilation video in which she identified Powell throwing rocks and bricks at police and shattering store windows. Powell was dressed in black and his face was covered, but Kerkhoff identified him because his eyes were exposed, he was wearing brown boots and carrying a black flag.
“He initiated violence,” Kerkhoff said. “He came to the District of Columbia to engage in violence by hiding his face, throwing rocks and running. He’s a violent coward.”
Kerkhoff said Powell was seen in Logan Circle the day before the inauguration carrying gas masks, a hammer and the same flag that was seen in the video.
“He was throwing rocks and bricks at windows where people, customers and children were inside. He charged the police line with bricks,” she said. “Mr. Powell is among the most violent” of the defendants, she added.
Powell’s attorney Ashley Jones said her client, who spent nine years in the Army, has spent his life protesting and demonstrating for peace in an effort “to create a world where everyone is treated with humanity.”
Jones said Powell did not travel to Washington to participate in violence, but to protest because he “was worried about the direction of this country.”
Jones blamed the police for some of the violence, saying the protesters were at times responding to the officers. “Mr. Powell’s motivation was to protest the inauguration. And during that protest he got carried away.”
Kerkhoff said one police officer was knocked unconscious after he was struck with a heavy rock or brick. Kerkhoff conceded, however, there is no evidence that Powell threw the rock that struck the officer.
Giving Powell credit for pleading early in the case, Kerkhoff asked the judge to sentence Powell to six months in jail.
Security was heightened in the courtroom where supporters of Powell and supporters of police officers took up all 50 seats and spilled over into another 20 seats in a second courtroom. Two U.S. marshals descended on one person in the courtroom who they observed taking pictures in the courthouse, they said, which is prohibited except during weddings and other similar occasions. The marshals ordered the man to delete the photos.
Leibovitz, who is overseeing the rioting cases, praised Powell for quickly agreeing to a plea deal, which she said factored into her sentence. Leibovitz also noted that it was unclear if any of the rocks Powell threw struck or injured the police officers. But she also criticized his violent actions.
“He separated himself from others and deliberately destroyed property,” the judge said. “He deliberately tried to hurt people, although he did not personally succeed.” Leibovitz also sentenced Powell to two years of supervised probation.
The trials for others charged in the protests are scheduled to begin later this year and will run through 2018.
Powell’s attorney requested he be allowed to report to jail in August so he could finish his college classes later this month. Leibovitz denied the request and ordered Powell to jail immediately. One Powell supporter cried out in the overflow courtroom.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Dane Powell and other rioters destroyed property on 16 city blocks, according to prosecutors. They actually said the rioters traveled 16 blocks but did not destroy property on all of them.