Friends and employers of six people accused of rioting on the day of President Trump’s inauguration took the witness stand Tuesday to portray the defendants as peaceful people not prone to violence.
The witnesses echoed one another as each described the defendant they knew as calm, helpful and cooperative.
The stream of character witnesses marked the end of testimony in the case of the first people to face trial in Inauguration Day protests in the District that turned violent, with participants dressed in black smashing store windows with bricks, hammers and crowbars.
During about three weeks of testimony in D.C. Superior Court, prosecutors questioned police officers and store employees caught up in the vandalism. They showed jurors video of the chaos from security cameras, police body cameras and cellphones. Although there is no evidence the defendants on trial caused any of that damage directly, prosecutors argue that the entire group of protesters bears responsibility.
Defense attorneys contend that their clients were peacefully protesting Jan. 20 and that police unfairly rounded up a large group when only a handful of people had become violent.
One defendant, Alexei Wood, sat with his co-defendants Tuesday as his boss of 3½ years, Michael Nye, was called to the stand. Nye told jurors that Wood works as a photographer and audio specialist for Nye’s San Antonio-based company.
“I have never heard of him being non-peaceful or aggressive. He’s exemplary,” Nye said.
Also charged with Wood are Michelle Macchio, 26, of Naples, Fla.; Jennifer Armento, 38, of Philadelphia; Christina Simmons, 20, of Cockeysville, Md.; Oliver Harris, 28, of Philadelphia; and Brittne Lawson, 27, of Pittsburgh.
Lawson’s boss, Valerie Hess, an oncology nurse at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, testified that she hired Lawson last year. Hess said Lawson worked with cancer patients, many of whom become aggressive and confused. Hess said she often watched Lawson “calmly de-escalate” situations with frightened and disoriented patients.
“I have never experienced her to be violent in any capacity” Hess testified.
Under cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff asked Hess whether she had seen any video of the riots. Hess said she saw video of a limousine engulfed in flames. Prosecutors allege that the limousine was damaged by the group charged with rioting but set on fire by another group later in the day.
Kerkhoff asked Hess whether she would consider someone who participated in such riots violent. “I would have a comment with them to understand more about their behavior,” Hess responded.
Armento’s boss, Robert Sataloff, a surgeon at Drexel University’s College of Medicine who has also been involved with a Philadelphia-area Republican group, testified via videoconference that he has known Armento, his family’s personal assistant, for nine years. Sataloff said Armento has “always been exceptionally peaceful and nonviolent and cooperative.”
In all, prosecutors charged 212 people in connection with the riots. So far, 20 people have pleaded guilty, and prosecutors have dropped cases against another 20. An additional 166 co-defendants are scheduled for trial through 2018.
In the ongoing trial, prosecutors rested their case Tuesday afternoon, and the defense presented their evidence over the next few hours.
Closing arguments could be as early as Wednesday, and the jury could begin deliberations as soon as Friday.