More than six months after Nearman let armed, far-right protesters into the Capitol in Salem, Ore., the now-ousted lawmaker pleaded guilty on Tuesday to official misconduct for his role in the violent protest. A Marion County judge sentenced Nearman to $2,900 in fines and 80 hours of community service and barred him for 18 months from entering the Capitol he helped breach in December, according to court records.
Nearman claimed that he pleaded guilty to avoid racking up hefty legal fees in a trial.
“The legal bills were stacking up,” he told Larson. “It made more sense to pay and do a little community service rather than pay twenty or thirty thousand more to attorneys.”
Prosecutors charged Nearman in late April, months after the Oregonian and Oregon Public Broadcasting first published surveillance footage that showed Nearman clearing the way for demonstrators protesting coronavirus restrictions to enter the Capitol. The video showed Nearman open a side door as protesters gathered outside on Dec. 21. Several people rushed into the building after Nearman held the door open. As police confronted the crowd that poured into the building, some of the protesters struck officers, used bear spray and damaged property inside the building.
When Marion County Circuit Judge Cheryl Pellegrini asked Nearman on Tuesday if he knew the protesters intended to act violently, he said no.
He added: “I had no intention of harming anyone.”
The incident preceded the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where violent rioters stormed the federal building, broke into lawmakers’ offices and beat the police officers who tried to stop them. Pellegrini said during Nearman’s hearing that she was watching testimony from Capitol police officers who shared their experiences from Jan. 6 with a panel of lawmakers on Tuesday.
“There was a Capitol police officer that testified,” Pellegrini said while addressing Nearman, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. “He said a thing that just stuck in my mind: … ‘Democracy is bigger than any person, and it’s bigger than any political party.’ I think he’s right about that.”
In January, just weeks after the Capitol stunt, Nearman was sworn in to serve his fourth term representing rural Polk County. He earned a reputation as one of the state’s most conservative lawmakers and gained additional support from the far right after he sued the governor over the state’s coronavirus restrictions and backed a failed effort to challenge the presidential election results.
After the surveillance footage of Nearman’s actions on Dec. 21 became public in January, his fellow Republicans called for his ouster from the state legislature. The Oregon House voted unanimously, except for Nearman himself, to expel him from its ranks in June.
Nearman was the first Oregon lawmaker ever ejected from the state legislature. His former aide, Anna Scharf, was appointed to replace him.
Although some police clashed with demonstrators during the Dec. 21 incident, no one was seriously harmed, Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson said Tuesday.
“This plea and sentencing concludes an embarrassing and disgraceful event in our state’s history,” Clarkson said in a statement, KATU reported. “I am thankful that no members of law enforcement, or anyone else were seriously injured as a result of Mr. Nearman’s irresponsible actions.”