Police officers who found themselves on the other side of a police line from Joseph Lino "Jose" Padilla on Jan. 6, 2021, took the witness stand in his trial Monday to describe their encounters with the Cleveland, Tennessee, man criminally charged for his actions that day.
Padilla, 42, was in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., for a bench trial before U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, an appointee of former President George W. Bush. Bates scheduled five days for Padilla's trial.
Padilla, honorably discharged from the Tennessee National Guard in 2012, has remained in federal custody in Washington, D.C., since his arrest Feb. 23, 2021. He pleaded not guilty March 30, 2021, to charges including assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers; obstruction of an official proceeding; and entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon.
Padilla's attorney, Michael Cronkright, waived the defense's right to make an opening statement.
In their testimony, witnesses from the Washington, D.C.'s Metropolitan Police Department described what they experienced in the press of protesters against law enforcement as the confrontation moved into the interior of the Capitol building. Witness testimony was accompanied by video from body-worn police cameras, surveillance cameras and other sources.
Metropolitan Police Detective Sgt. Owais Akhtar, a member of a civil defense unit working that day, said Padilla was among those trying to get past the police line formed with the bike racks and officers including Akhtar as objects flew through the air overhead.
Akhtar testified Padilla was being aggressive in pushing against the police line, so he used his baton to push back but not to strike Padilla.
U.S. Capitol Police Captain Carneysha Mendoza testified she, like other officers in the courtroom Monday, had experienced numerous protests at the nation's center of government but the numbers that swelled onto Capitol grounds were becoming overwhelming.
Mendoza said then-Vice President Mike Pence had a motorcade that was forced to select an alternate location for his arrival and departure because of the increasing violence and the potential to compromise Pence's security.
As that happened, breaches were occurring throughout the grounds, Mendoza testified.
"We didn't have enough personnel to respond to the amount of people breaching the grounds," she testified.
The officers — heard on radio calls that were captured by body-worn camera video — were distressed, Mendoza said.
She testified the certification of the 2020 election was delayed by the breach and the chaos it produced. Mendoza said a protest that involved people forcing their way through doors and windows of the Capitol had never happened in her experience.
Metropolitan Police Department Sgt. Paul Riley, a 28-year police veteran, was on the front line engaging protesters and trying to keep them from advancing, according to his testimony.
Riley said a large crowd had gathered inside the west terrace of the Capitol near the area that would be called the "tunnel" in later descriptions.
Riley said there was no airflow in the tunnel and everyone in it was exposed to pepper spray, bear spray and spray from the discharge of a fire extinguisher.
Cronkright pressed Riley about whether he had identified Padilla as one among the throng in the tunnel but Riley said he didn't know Padilla but had seen himself and Padilla circled in video from the tunnel.
Monday's court action began with testimony from Metropolitan Police Sgt. Jayson Cropper, a 23-year veteran of the force who responded to the Capitol as part of a seven-member civil defense unit to help quell increasing unrest and assist Capitol police already on the scene. Cropper's testimony revolved around descriptions of events captured on his body-worn camera and his encounter at close range with Padilla.
Cropper testified Padilla was at the bike rack barricade when he first encountered him and was face-to-face with him several times during confrontations between law enforcement and protesters.
While Cropper verified portions of body-worn camera footage containing remarks made by Padilla, he didn't specifically recall his words without using the video because of all the chaos of the moment. The audio/video evidence presented Monday in court was all but inaudible for those listening in via teleconference.
Cropper testified he and other officers pushed Padilla and other protesters away from the bike rack barricade and attempted to maintain their position until the 10-by-20-foot Trump sign in an aluminum frame showed up near Padilla and Cropper, according to the officer's testimony.
Cropper said he never drew his stun gun or police baton that day, but he testified other officers used both on protesters. Cropper also testified Padilla didn't strike, kick or spit on him. Cropper said he didn't consider the sign to be a weapon but more as a screen to conceal protesters from police. He testified that he cut himself on the sign when he tripped over it.
During defense questioning, Cropper testified he rendered assistance to an officer who was apparently having a seizure in the midst of the crowd, so he accompanied that officer to the hospital and to get his own injury treated.
As testimony continued Monday afternoon, U.S. Capitol police Officer Oscar Corado testified about his experience in the chaos of the breach. Corado testified about the flagpole thrown by Padilla that struck his helmet. Cronkright attacked the late notice of the officer he contended was conveniently found just before trial.
Prosecutors said their last witness would be called in the morning.
Cronkright said the defense will be ready to proceed Tuesday morning with Padilla taking the stand.