Judge scolds FL man who took Pelosi lectern in Capitol riot. ‘Why shouldn’t I lock you up?’

Win McNamee

The Parrish man who posed for photos after stealing Nancy Pelosi’s lectern during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has pleaded guilty to illegally entering the Capitol that day.

Adam Johnson, 36, pleaded guilty Monday morning to one count of entering or remaining in any restricted building. In exchange for his plea and accepting responsibility, federal prosecutors are not seeking any prison time.

Johnson was quickly identified after photos of him smiling and waving while carrying the lectern went viral, and other Manatee County residents recognized him and submitted tips to the FBI. The lectern — valued at more than $1,000 according to the House curator — was later found by Senate staff in the Red corridor of the Senate wing off the Rotunda in the Capitol.

The lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica Arca, and Johnson’s defense attorneys, Dan Eckhart and David Bigney, agreed as part of the plea agreement signed Oct. 26 to recommend that Johnson not be held in detention until his sentencing hearing and that the conditions of his current release remain the same.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office also agreed to reduce Johnson’s score on the federal sentencing guidelines because he has taken responsibility for his actions that day. Based on those guidelines, Johnson could get up to six months incarceration.

The agreement is also recommending that Johnson pay $500 restitution for his share of the damage done to the Capitol — which totaled nearly $1.5 million. Johnson was not present in the Washington D.C. for Monday’s hearing, and the plea was instead taken in a video conference.

Johnson could face up to one year in prison, a $100,000 fine, a year of supervised release and could be forced to pay whatever restitution is left to be paid after payments from others convicted in the case.

Senior U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton will sentence Johnson at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 25.

Walton declined to detain Johnson until sentencing based on the prosecution’s request, but not without expressing his concerns and making clear he was considering imposing prison time.

“You seemed to have thought it was a fun event to be involved in. I don’t understand that mentality and to come to Washington D.C. and to destroy a monument of our democracy, I find very, very disturbing,” Walton said.

“And what concerns me, is that you were gullible enough to come all the way up here from Florida based upon a lie and then associate yourself because of that lie with people and try to undermine the will of the American public about who should be the president of the United States.”

Meanwhile, Walton continued, the person who inspired Johnson’s action, former President Donald Trump, is still making those false statements.

“I have concerns about whether you will be gullible when something like this arises again ... That concerns me, it really does because we are in a troubled situation as a country,” he said. “Al Gore had a better case to argue than Mr. Trump and he was a man about what happened to him and he accepted it for the benefit of the country and walked away. “

Walton called Johnson weak-minded enough to believe Trump’s lie and do what he did before asking him, “So why shouldn’t I lock you up sir? Why should I think that you won’t do this again?”

“Your honor, I understand that my actions are irreprehensible but I am here pleading guilty because I am guilty. I have taken responsibility,” Johnson said. “This was my first protest and last protest.”

The other charges Johnson faced — one count of theft of government property and one count of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds — will be dismissed. Prosecutors have also agreed not to prosecute Johnson for any other non-violent crimes he may have committed during any events surrounding the insurrection at the Capitol.

Johnson had at some point indicated he wanted to publicize his involvement in the Capitol riot in a book, Walton revealed before warning him that should he publish anything for the next five years, the federal government would have to seize any that he may profit as a result.

Prosecutor details Johnson’s participation

Johnson had traveled to Washington D.C. with an unnamed friend on Jan. 5 to go to Trump’s rally, the prosecutor detailed as part of the factual basis she laid out on the record on Monday morning. He was armed with a knife but got rid of it on his way to the rally, throwing it in some bushes.

The two joined the crowd when they began running toward the Capitol, witnessing several skirmishes between rioters and police along the way, even recording video of one such skirmish on his phone.

They were close enough that tear gas stung his eyes, but the two got separated before Johnson climbed the scaffolding outside the Capitol. As others directly to his left were breaking in through a window, Johnson breached the building through the Senate wing door.

“He wondered about the Capitol for several minutes,” Arca said. “He went down a hallway into Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite. He actually jiggled the handle to one of the doors, but it was locked and he went on his way.”

It was then that Johnson found and took Pelosi’s lectern. He carried it out to the House Rotunda, posing for several photos and setting it down. Johnson also asked someone to take a photo with his own cellphone as he gestured and posed behind the lectern.

Johnson then made his way toward the House chambers, where several protesters were confronting a line of police officers and joined the crowd, moving with them as they pushed past the line and reaching a vestibule that leads to House chamber. Others were beating on the door and chanting “stop the steal.” Johnson shouted that a bust of Washington in that vestibule would be “a great battering ram.”

It was 2:55 p.m. when Johnson finally left the Capitol.

“Following his time in DC, he deleted media located in his phone, photos and videos,” Arca said. “He also deleted his Facebook account.”