A welder from Kentucky who had been living in Uniontown has received the stiffest sentence yet handed out in the two-year FBI investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection.
U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta on Friday gave Peter Schwartz, a felon with 38 prior convictions, 14 years in federal prison for attacking police.
Federal prosecutors described Schwartz as one of the “most violent and aggressive participants” among the rioters who stormed the Capitol in support of then-President Donald Trump’s election lies.
His wife, Shelly Stallings, had previously been sentenced to two years for her role.
The couple had been living in Uniontown at the time but are from Kentucky. She and Schwartz are now estranged.
Prosecutors said Schwartz was an instigator who assaulted police and later bragged about his actions online.
He threw the first chair at officers, “creating an opening in the police line in the northwest corner of the terrace that enabled hundreds of rioters to flood the [lower west terrace] as overwhelmed officers were forced to retreat,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jocelyn Bond said.
“He then stole chemical munitions, including pepper spray, that had been left behind by the fleeing officers and used that pepper spray as a weapon to attack those same officers as they desperately tried to escape the growing and increasingly violent mob.”
Stallings, also a welder by training who is now a forklift operator, had pleaded guilty last year to multiple counts of civil disorder and attacking police. Schwartz elected a trial and was convicted.
The couple drove to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, to attend Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally in support of his repeated lies that he won the election. They then marched to the Capitol with the throng. Schwartz threw a metal folding chair at police, hitting a bunch of them. He then grabbed a bag filled with large canisters of pepper spray and used them to spray officers. Those actions were recorded on video, and Stallings also gave a statement to the FBI about what happened.
Stallings also said her husband hit an officer in the head with a baton she called a “tire thumper.” Video shows him wielding the baton.
At one point in the melee, Schwartz handed Stallings a can of pepper spray, which she used to spray the cops, as seen on video.
After that, Stallings walked toward the lower west terrace tunnel with Schwartz and another man, Jeffrey Brown. Stallings entered the tunnel and made her way to the front of the line of rioters, where she and others pushed against the police line guarding the doors.
Stallings, Schwartz, Brown and another man then coordinated to spray an “orange substance” at officers, prosecutors said.
Stallings initially lied to the FBI when they came to arrest her husband but later contacted agents to say she was going to divorce Schwartz and wanted to tell the truth. This time she admitted she had lied about two guns found in their house. She initially said they were hers but now admitted that they belonged to Schwartz. As a felon, he can’t have guns under federal law.
She also said she had lied about Schwartz having sprayed the officers in response to being sprayed. The police did not spray her husband first; he was the aggressor.
She said she had lied because she was afraid of him and that he had beaten her two days before the FBI arrested him. She also said he had threatened harm to anyone who turned him in to the FBI, saying he had sent as many as 30 messages from jail threatening to kill her if she cooperated.
Bond had asked for more than 24 years for Schwartz based on his actions on Jan. 6, his violent criminal history and his “utter lack of remorse.”
After the riot, Schwartz bragged in texts about what he’d done.
“We are on our back from DC,” he wrote. “I started that. I [sic] the first chair at the cops … stole their shit and used it on them!”
He later texted someone else, saying, “We winning! I started a riot” and made similar boasts to a third person on Jan. 7.
After the FBI arrested him, he cast himself as a victim, Bond said. While in jail, he gave interviews to the “Cowboy Logic” radio program. In the most recent interview, which took place during his trial, he said he was innocent, that the jury was biased and that he was prosecuted because of his political leanings. He called the trial the “biggest sham I’ve ever seen in my life” and claimed he never attacked police but was rather defending his wife.
Bond said the interviews show Schwartz is convinced of his innocence and “cannot even fathom that he has done something to be remorseful for.”
She also said what he did during the riot is not out of character for him. Instead, she said, it was “just the most recent episode in a three-decade history of assault, violence and weapons.”
His “jaw-dropping” criminal history, she said, consists of 38 convictions dating to 1991, several of which involve assaults and threats against police or other authorities.
Bond also said that Schwartz has capitalized on his case by raising $71,541 in an online campaign he calls “Patriot Pete Political Prisoner in DC.” She asked that the judge fine him that amount and impose a $2,000 restitution order as well.
Schwartz’s lawyers admitted that his conduct was serious but said it stemmed from a “misunderstanding” of the 2020 election. They asked for 4½ years.
The judge settled on 170 months but imposed no fine or restitution. He ordered that Schwartz be on probation for three years after he gets out of prison.
The sentence far exceeds any yet given to a Capitol rioter. The closest is a 10-year term imposed on Thomas Webster, a former New York police officer who attacked officers.
Schwartz is among some two dozen people from Western Pennsylvania charged in the insurrection. Overall, more than 1000 have been charged and the investigation is continuing as the FBI identifies more rioters.
Just this week the FBI arrested one of their own – Jared Wise, a former FBI supervisor who had been living in Oregon. Agents said he is seen on video exhorting rioters to kill police during the riot.