A New York man who was part of the crowd that chased a police officer up several flights of stairs as Donald Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building has been sentenced to 41 months in prison.
Greg Rubenacker, 26, was among the small crowd that chased Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman up the stairs outside the Senate Chamber on Jan. 6, as the riotous crowd of Trump supporters angry over the results of the 2020 presidential election overwhelmed police and pushed their way inside the building.
He first entered the Capitol through the Senate Wing Door shortly before 2:15 p.m., recording a video in which he is heard shouting: “This is history! We took the Capitol.”
“Where are they counting the votes,” he also yelled, joining a crowd facing off against police. It was during this breach of the Capitol—his first of two of the day—that Rubenacker chased Goodman up the stairs for several heart-stopping minutes, as captured on video.
Rubenacker left the building moments later, but returned about 20 minutes after that, making his way to the Rotunda where he recorded himself smoking marijuana. He later posted this video to social media with the caption: “Smoke out the Capitol, baby.”
While part of a crowd that was resisting police efforts to move the crowd outside, Rubenacker swung a plastic bottle of water at an officer’s head, and later sprayed water from his bottle at officers engaging with other rioters. Law enforcement then deployed chemical spray against the crowd, including Rubenacker, who eventually left the building at around 3:20 p.m.
He pleaded guilty in February to all 10 charges against him—three felonies and seven misdemeanors. He faced up to 20 years in prison for one count of obstruction of an official proceeding, up to 8 years for one count assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers, and up to three years for one count of civil disorder.
As to the misdemeanor charges, Rubenacker faced up to one year in jail for each count of being in a restricted building or grounds, and up to six months for each charge relating to disorderly conduct in a Capitol building or grounds.
Prosecutors had requested 46 months in prison, three years of supervised release, and $2,000 in restitution. Rubenacker had requested a sentence of 12 months of home incarceration.
Rubenacker had made the unusual move of pleading guilty without a plea agreement with prosecutors. At the time, Rubenacker’s lawyer Michaelangelo Matera explained that the government’s plea offer required Rubenacker to agree to the government’s recommended sentencing guideline range, which was the same as what Rubenacker would face if he pled under the indictment alone.
At the time of Rubenacker’s plea, Matera said that he would argue at sentencing for a downward departure from the guideline range. That effort failed Thursday, with Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell denying Matera’s request and ordering a sentence within the government’s recommended guideline range of 41 to 51 months.
Howell, a Barack Obama appointee, ultimately sentenced Rubenacker to the low end of that range, and added a three-year probation sentence to his 41 months in prison.
Judge: “It Is Not a Far Leap to Appreciate the Terror” Felt by “Overwhelmed” Police at the Capitol on Jan. 6
Rubenacker’s case is the first Jan. 6 sentencing in which Officer Goodman submitted a victim impact statement. That statement was submitted under seal late Wednesday night.
On Thursdsay, Matera objected. He argued that the obstruction charge applied to his client’s initial breach of the Capitol building, which is also when he joined the mob chasing Goodman up the stairs. Under that obstruction charge, Matera argued, the true “victim” of Rubenacker’s crime was the U.S. government, not Goodman.
Matera also said that Goodman’s statement offered very little of his own feelings, and instead included statements regarding stories his law enforcement colleagues have told him about the fallout they personally have experienced from Jan. 6.
“Those other people chose not to give a victim impact statement,” Matera said. “To have him submit a letter from other people … How do we know that’s an accurate description[?]”
Prosecutors, however, said that Matera’s argument didn’t hold water.
“There’s a mob of people that chase Officer Goodman up the stairs yelling at him,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Troy Edwards Jr. said. “Mr. Rubenacker was one of them. Certainly that falls in the definition of ‘direct and proximate harm’ of the day’s events.”
Howell agreed with the government, and overruled Matera’s objection.
“He does refer to feelings of fear, nightmares, needing mental health treatment,” Howell said, referring to Goodman’s sealed statement. “[The] feelings continue to linger, people who work there continue to suffer from what was experienced on Jan. 6. Although Officer Goodman doesn’t share that he too is feeling all those things, I agree with the government that based on what I’ve seen from the video, it is not a far leap to appreciate the terror that the police officers who were overwhelmed that day [felt], and particularly Officer Goodman who was chased up the stairs by an angry mob until he found his colleagues … I think that qualifies him as a victim of this mob action on Jan. 6.”
“In any event,” Howell added, “even if Officer Goodman doesn’t technically meet the definition of a ‘crime victim,’ I have full discretion [to consider his statement], and I will do so.”
It’s unclear whether Goodman will submit a victim impact statement in other prosecutions.
“This Defendant is a Grownup. He Should Have Known Better.”
As Rubenacker’s lawyer started to lay out his reasons for why Rubenacker deserved a sentence of home incarceration instead of federal prison, Howell in on whether the defendant still believed the Big Lie—the widely-debunked conspiracy theory that Joe Biden’s electoral win was due to widespread voter fraud—and bemoaned the fact that political leaders have continued to repeated it.
“Does he still believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen?” Howell asked Matera.
“He does not,” Matera responded.
Matera also said that sending his client to prison would derail his burgeoning music career.
“Any very long or lengthy prison sentence would totally derail the progress that he’s made,” Matera said. “The music industry is fickle … it’s not something that’s easy to get into at a later time in life. It’s more of a young person’s profession.”
While speaking on his own behalf, Rubenacker himself didn’t hesitate to drop a few names as apparent evidence of his potential for career success.
“I’ve worked with Grammy-nominated producers,” he said. “I worked with Craig Derry, also known as Lady Gaga’s and Katy Perry’s vocal coach. I have been making music for eight years and everything I have been doing for the past eight years has finally started coming to fruition.”
Howell was unmoved.
“This defendant is a grownup,” she said. “He was a grownup on Jan. 6, 2021. He should have known better.”
Howell had sharp words for what she described as Rubenacker’s sense of “entitlement” in breaching the Capitol that day and that he was “so exhilarated to be there,” and said his actions toward Goodman were particularly egregious.
“Chasing Officer Goodman up the stairs was antagonistic conduct,” Howell said. “It was threatening conduct. It was scary conduct for Officer Goodman, and it would on its own warrant significant punishment.”
In addition to the prison sentence and probation, Howell ordered Rubenacker to pay $2,000 in restitution toward the estimated $2.7 million damage to the Capitol. She ordered that he be allowed to stay out of custody until the Bureau of Prisons determines where he will serve his sentence.
[Images via FBI court filings.]
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