A former carpenter from Pennsylvania who pleaded guilty to assaulting police officers and a photojournalist during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol was sentenced Friday to 34 months in prison after apologizing in court for his actions and saying he behaved like “an antagonistic jerk” on the day of the siege.
“Regretfully, I let my emotions get the best of me, and I’m very disappointed,” the defendant, Alan W. Byerly, 55, told Judge Randolph D. Moss in U.S. District Court in Washington. “But make no mistake: This was no excuse for me to put my hands on anyone. … I was being an antagonistic jerk, and I still can’t understand why I was like that.”
Byerly, a divorced father and grandfather who had lost his carpentry job during the pandemic, said he was experiencing “depression, frustration and isolation” when he traveled to Washington to attend President Donald Trump’s incendiary rally Jan. 6 on the Ellipse, at which Trump repeated his debunked claim that rampant voter fraud had led to his defeat in the 2020 election.
Carrying an electric stun device “for protection,” Byerly said, he then joined thousands of Trump supporters as the mob stormed the Capitol while Congress was meeting to confirm Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election. Later, in the months before his July 2021 arrest, Byerly said, “I felt so bad” about the riot that “I wouldn’t even tell the closest people in my life about January 6th.”
In court filings, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington said Byerly, who was not accused of entering the Capitol, was present on the building’s Lower West Terrace when rioters accosted an Associated Press photographer and hauled him down a flight of stairs.
“At the bottom of the stairs, [Byerly] and three other individuals grabbed the journalist and pushed, shoved and dragged him,” the office said in a statement. “Byerly grabbed the journalist with both hands and pushed him backward. He then continued to push and drag him away from the stairs.”
The journalist “was not injured and advised the government that he did not wish to participate in the investigation of this matter,” according to a court filing. Shortly after that assault, Byerly became involved in a melee on the Lower West Terrace with police officers who were trying to prevent the mob from breaching the building, prosecutors said.
In return for Byerly’s guilty pleas to two charges — assaulting police officers and assaulting the photojournalist — Moss on Friday dismissed six other counts in an indictment, at the request of the U.S. attorney’s office. Those charges involved Byerly’s unauthorized presence and disorderly conduct on restricted grounds at the Capitol.
Federal sentencing guidelines, which are not compulsory, called for a prison term in the range of 37 to 46 months. While defense lawyers asked for a sentence of less than 37 months, Assistant U.S. attorney Anita Eve recommended a 46-month term, saying: “The court should send a message: This behavior is not going to be treated lightly. … This defendant needs to feel the consequences of his actions.”
In siding with the defense and imposing a 34-month term, Moss said he was “enormously impressed” by Byerly’s statement of contrition. “It struck me as sincere,” the judge said. With credit for the 15 months that Byerly has been in jail since his arrest, he has 19 months still to serve.
Much of Friday’s courtroom debate focused on the stun device that Byerly carried that day, whether it was “dangerous weapon” and whether it should factor heavily in his sentencing. Although the device is referred to in court papers as a “stun gun,” it was shaped more like a flashlight with two prongs at the end and had to be pressed against someone’s the skin to inflict an electrical charge.
Byerly, who admitted brandishing the device during the mayhem but was not accused of stunning anyone, said he bought it for $25 in a store before traveling to Washington.
Defense attorneys depicted the device as fairly harmless, emitting only a slight jolt. “The stun gun he had on January 6th could not have caused serious harm and therefore was not a deadly or dangerous weapon,” lawyer Hunter S. Labovitz argued in court. “You would feel something on your skin like a little tingle … but it’s not going to incapacitate you.”
Eve, the prosecutor, acknowledged that it was “a low-energy” device but said Byerly “clearly created the impression in the police officers’ minds that they were capable of being stunned and incapacitated.”
Byerly, from Fleetwood, Pa., about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia, said he never participated in a public protest before Jan. 6 and looks forward to a quiet, law-abiding life after his prison stint.
“What I’ve learned in these 15 months in jail is that disagreements about politics should never, ever result in riots or violence,” he told the judge.