The man known as the “QAnon shaman” wants a legal ruling vacating his prison sentence for admitting he breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — even though he is no longer behind bars.
Jacob Chansley, the Arizona man who memorably wore a pelt and horned helmet to breach the Capitol and was heard hollering repeatedly inside the Senate chamber, wants the federal judge overseeing has case to “vacate, set aside, or correct” his 41-month sentence, according to a filing by his attorney William Shipley on Thursday.
Chansley pleaded guilty in September 2021 to obstructing an official proceeding of Congress and was sentenced in November 2021 to 41 months behind bars. In issuing his sentence, Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth called him the “flagbearer” and “very image” of the riot, and indeed Chansley’s visage has become inextricably linked to the events of Jan. 6, when mobs of Donald Trump supporters violently overwhelmed police and broke into the Capitol as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral win.
Chansley, who faced a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to pay a $2,000 fine. He is no longer incarcerated, having been released in March to a halfway house after serving less than 30 months behind bars, including time in custody prior to his plea.
Relying largely on cherrypicked closed-circuit television footage aired by Jan. 6 apologist and since-fired Fox News host Tucker Carlson — who has referred to the rioters as nothing more than a group of “sightseers” — Shipley argues that the government did not disclose video evidence that his client was not acting violently while inside the Capitol.
Shipley says communications from the government indicate that so-called Brady material — evidence held by prosecutors that would tend to exonerate a defendant — was not properly disclosed and that federal prosecutors have “misled” the judge. He also notes that Chansley’s plea agreement allows for a challenge based on “‘newly discovered evidence’ and/or ‘ineffective assistance of counsel,'” and challenges the sentence on both grounds.
“The CCTV videos show [Chansley] encountered numerous Officers of the U.S. Capitol Police over an extended period of time and was even escorted by one or more of those Officers as he made his way around the Capitol,” Shipley says in the motion, describing one instance where an officer apparently tried to open a door for Chansley, but it was locked. “Another CCTV video showed an Officer opening the door to the floor of the Senate Chamber for Mr. Chansley, and the following him inside onto the floor of the Senate.”
As evidence of his client’s peacefulness, Shipley says that “at no point in any of the videos shown by Fox News” did police inside the Capitol try to take Chansley into custody “or otherwise impede his movement” in the building.
Shipley, accusing prosecutors of deliberately keeping video evidence from Chansley, argues that had the video been disclosed before sentencing, it could very well have changed the outcome.
“The suppressed CCTV video favorable to Mr. Chansley would have supported a counter-argument to be made at sentencing that responded to the narrative stitched together by the Government,” the motion says.
Shipley also says that Chansley’s former attorney Albert Watkins failed their client by moving forward with a plea agreement that included a stipulation to a sentencing enhancement before receiving more CCTV footage from the government.
“Attorney Watkins was ineffective by not obtaining the CCTV camera video after he was aware such video was available based on the fact that the Government gave notice of its intent to use CCTV camera video at sentencing,” the motion says, adding that not doing so “allowed the Government to take liberties in describing Mr. Chansley’s conduct while inside the Capitol, without fear of the unproduced videos contradicting the Government’s claims.”
Shipley also seems to imply that the plea agreement itself might be subject to an ineffective assistance of counsel claim.
“But for Attorney Watkins’ ineffective assistance, Mr. Chansley would not have entered into a guilty plea with the stipulations and waivers demanded in the Government’s offer,” the motion says. “An effective and competent practitioner would have advised Mr. Chansley that he could plead guilty to all the charges in the Indictment without any plea agreement, and preserved his rights to argue against the sentencing enhancements and to later appeal on appropriate legal issues.”
In an email to Law&Crime, Watkins did not respond to Shipley’s accusations.
“Mr. Chansley is a big hearted, gentle, smart young man who deserved better from our government on many levels,” Watkins said.
The Justice Department had not filed a response to the motion as of Friday.
Carlson’s Jan. 6 special, the result of hours of video provided by newly installed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was widely derided as misleading. It minimized the actual danger law enforcement faced, the threats to lawmakers — particularly then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., — who were forced to evacuate while staffers hid from the rioters for hours, and the estimated millions of dollars of damage done to the building.
Shipley, meanwhile, has urged Chansley supporters to donate funds in support of his effort to vacate the sentence.
Now the battle is joined. Expect DOJ to not give this one up without a long fight.
Any contributions are greatly appreciated. https://t.co/6LYRZH3bZz https://t.co/PrzOFJCecG
— Shipwreckedcrew.substack.com (@shipwreckedcrew) April 28, 2023
Read the motion to vacate here.
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