Former cop ordered detained on riot charges

Guy Lucas And Paul B. Johnson, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.
·3 min read

Feb. 27—HIGH POINT — A Thomasville woman and former High Point police officer charged in the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol must remain in federal custody because she poses a danger to the community and because her husband and other family members potentially are witnesses against her, a federal judge ruled Friday.

The weight of the evidence against Laura Lee Steele, 52, is strong, Magistrate Judge Joe L. Webster wrote in rejecting the request of Steele's attorney, John Bryson of High Point, that she be released into the custody of her husband, Kenneth Steele, a retired High Point Police Department assistant chief.

And while Laura Steele doesn't have a criminal record and had been steadily employed until her arrest, "the record establishes by clear and convincing evidence that no combination of available release conditions would reasonably assure the safety of the community," Webster wrote. "... (T)he nature of the alleged crime poses a serious and significant threat to the community and the nation at large."

Laura Steele was arrested last week and is one of at least nine people charged in the Jan. 6 insurrection who authorities say are associated with a group called the Oath Keepers. Members of the group include many former law enforcement officers and military personnel.

Webster noted in his ruling that the assault on the Capitol resulted in injuries to more than 100 law enforcement officers, several deaths and millions of dollars in damage.

"While the evidence at the hearing suggests that Defendant engaged in less physical violence than others participating in the events of that day, Defendant's breach of the Capitol ... is a far cry from the actions of one who is exercising her First Amendment right to peacefully assemble," Webster wrote.

Bryson had argued in a hearing Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Durham that releasing Laura Steele to go home would be safe in part because her husband is a retired officer, and the Steeles live with Laura Steele's mother, both of their sons — one of whom is a High Point police officer — and their sons' significant others.

But Webster wrote that all of Laura Steele's family members may be witnesses against her because they knew about events leading up to and following Jan. 6, including Laura Steele after her return from Washington, D.C., deleting Facebook posts about her political views.

Kenneth Steele testified during Tuesday's hearing that he had known that Laura Steele was going to Washington with her brother — Graydon Young of Florida, who Kenneth Steele said was "not my favorite person" — for a rally but did not know of any plans to go to the Capitol.

Laura Steele had been a High Point police officer from 1992 until August 2004, when she was fired "for conduct toward superior personnel, absence from duty and violation of communication policy," according to a police release of information from her personnel records with the department. During her time on the force, Steele served as a school resource officer and in the patrol bureau.

pjohnson@hpenews.com — 336-888-3528 — @HPEpaul