WASHINGTON — A New Mexico county commissioner who entered the restricted grounds on Jan. 6 was ordered to perform community service and pay a fine Friday, but avoided any additional jail time.
Couy Griffin, the founder of “Cowboys for Trump” and a member of the Otero County Commission, was sentenced to 14 days in jail and one year of supervised release. Because Griffin spent nearly three weeks in pretrial confinement before being granted bond, he will not have to report to the Bureau of Prisons for any additional time.
U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden convicted Griffin in a bench trial in late March of one misdemeanor count of entering and remaining in a restricted area. McFadden acquitted Griffin of a second misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct.
On Friday, both pretrial services and the Justice Department recommended Griffin serve 90 days in jail. Prosecutors said Griffin had made public statements both on social media and during public hearings of the Otero County Commission downplaying his role in the Capitol riot, criticizing McFadden and suggesting his case was “selective prosecution.”
“He wasn’t ashamed,” assistant U.S. attorney Janani Iyengar said. “He was essentially bragging about violating [police] orders.”
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Griffin’s attorney, Nick Smith, argued in his sentencing memo Griffin had already been punished by the 20 days he served in the D.C. Jail – most of it in solitary confinement – death threats he’d received since his arrest and an effort to recall him from his elected position. Smith also argued sentencing Griffin to additional jail time would create sentencing disparities with other Jan. 6 defendants who’ve pleaded guilty to the same charge. McFadden noted in those cases, however, the defendants had accepted responsibility.
Griffin himself spoke at the hearing, saying he regretted not taking the stand during his trial and telling the judge he felt he was the “victim of a lot of political backlash.” But he also claimed he abhorred the violence at the Capitol – where he said he had gone to pray – and asserted his respect for law enforcement.
“I’m as sorry and disgraced at the violent acts on Ja. 6 as you or anyone else are,” Griffin said.
The problem at sentencing, McFadden said, was the two version of Griffin he was presented with. He said what he heard from him in court was a “very different tone” than in his tweets. He also stressed repeatedly Griffin’s responsibilities as an elected official – saying it seemed like he was “throwing fuel on the fire here at a very difficult moment for the country.”
Griffin showed a “very real and continued lack of contrition,” McFadden continued, as well as a “disdain for our nation’s laws and criminal justice system.”
On the other hand, McFadden said, he found Griffin’s conduct on Jan. 6 to be at the “minimal end of criminality” of Capitol riot cases. It was because of that, ultimately, that he decided no additional jail time was needed. Griffin will have to complete 60 hours of community service and pay a $3,000 fine in addition to $500 in restitution to the Architect of the Capitol.
“Sir, as an elected state officer you’ve taken an oath to defend the Constitution,” McFadden said, “and I believe the actions you took on Jan. 6 and your statements since are in grave tensions with that oath.”
In addition to his Jan. 6 case, Griffin is facing a potential criminal investigation in New Mexico as part of the Otero County Commission’s vote this week not to certify the results of the local 2022 primary election. On Thursday, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver referred the three members of the commission to New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas' office over alleged criminal violations of the state's election laws. The Associated Press reported the New Mexico Supreme Court has given Griffin and the other members a deadline of Friday to certify the results.
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