Flagpole-hurling Cleveland, Tennessee, man sentenced in Capitol breach case

U.S. Department of Justice / Joseph “Jose” Lino Padilla, of Cleveland, Tenn., is shown in federal court filings. Padilla was convicted of multiple charges in connection with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

A Cleveland, Tennessee, man was sentenced Wednesday to 6.5 years in federal prison on eight felony counts for pushing against barricades and hurling a flagpole at a police officer's head during the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Joseph Lino "Jose" Padilla, 43, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. He was ordered to pay $2,000 restitution and will serve two years of supervised release after his sentence.

Padilla, honorably discharged from the Tennessee National Guard in 2012, has remained in federal custody in Washington since his arrest Feb. 23, 2021. If Padilla gets credit for the two and a half years he has already spent behind bars, that means he could complete his sentence in less than four years, or by August 2027.

Sentencing in Capitol riot cases with similar charges falls into a range similar to Padilla's 78-month sentence. Prosecutors in his case had sought a prison sentence of more than 14 years.

In a breach case hearing before Bates on Sept. 7, Sean Michael McHugh, of Auburn, California, was also sentenced to 78 months in prison, according to a U.S. Attorney's Office news release. Bates ordered McHugh to pay $2,000 restitution and a $5,000 fine. McHugh attacked police at the Capitol with bear spray and declared "we stormed them and we took Congress" on social media.

Padilla pleaded not guilty March 30, 2021, to 11 counts, including charges of 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. He was represented by attorney Michael Cronkright.

On May 3, he was convicted on 10 of the 11 counts in the indictment following a three-day trial before Bates, who presided over Wednesday's sentencing hearing.

The most serious of the charges, throwing the flagpole like a spear, striking a police officer in the helmet but not injuring him, was the focus of much of the trial and the primary count considered at his sentencing Wednesday.

Padilla testified in May he attended then-President Donald Trump's rally the morning of Jan. 6 because it was something new. He'd gone to Washington with his brother-in-law and his spouse. Padilla denied he ever belonged to any groups like the Oath Keepers or Proud Boys.

(READ MORE: Cleveland, Tennessee, man takes stand in his Jan. 6 trial in Washington)

Defense memo

A sentencing memorandum filed Sept. 6 by Cronkright described the pre-Capitol breach Padilla as a stay-at-home, military-veteran dad diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder living with his wife of 18 years and children with no prior criminal record. Padilla, a Vicksburg, Mississippi, native, was the youngest of five children, all step-siblings.

"Mr. Padilla's family history is impacted by the fact that he was raised in a dysfunctional and abusive environment," Cronkright said in the document.

Padilla grew up in a home where sexual abuse not involving Padilla occurred frequently at the hands of his biological father, the memorandum states. Padilla and his father moved often after his parents divorced over continued abuse.

"Mr. Padilla recalls his father picking him up after work from the babysitter's house and going directly to his father's favorite bar, where he was left to sit in the corner in the back of the bar," Cronkright wrote in the memorandum. "There he would fall asleep while his father drank."

(READ MORE: Capitol police describe Cleveland, Tennessee, man's actions during Jan. 6 breach)

Padilla witnessed his mother's overdose when he was in kindergarten, the memo states. In the aftermath, Padilla's family was left homeless in Texas for a time. Padilla was 25 when his mother died at the age 55 from a heart attack. Padilla moved out of the home at 18 to live on his own, the memorandum states.

The Padilla family has suffered since Padilla's February 2021 arrest and continued incarceration, with Padilla's wife experiencing mental health issues from the stress of his incarceration and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and PTSD, the memorandum states. The situation also affected Padilla's mental health, causing him to have anxiety and flashbacks over his family's situation, the memo states.

"Mr. Padilla reports that his upbringing combined with his combat experience in the Army has made him an introvert who struggles with loud noise, chaos and large groups; all of which are largely unavoidable in prison," Cronkright states in the memorandum. "He further states that he is constantly on the verge of tears and looks forward to receiving his evening medications in the hopes he will fall into a deep sleep just to gain some peace."

Padilla's family is the only stable environment he has ever lived in, and separation from them has an ongoing negative effect.

"Mr. Padilla deeply regrets ever having gone to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021," Cronkright states. "He states that every day is torture having to live with the fact that his actions are the direct reason for his family's separation and hardship. He understands that his actions on Jan. 6 caused himself and his family the pain and suffering they now deal with daily. Mr. Padilla reports that his only desire post-incarceration is to find some land and build a farmstead for his family."

Prosecution memo

Prosecutors dismiss Padilla's claims of regret over his actions at the breach and assertions his actions were harmless in a 30-page memorandum filed Sept. 6.

Padilla assaulted two police officers defending the U.S. Capitol, including striking one with a dangerous weapon, their memo states, adding that Padilla stated multiple times before, during and after the riot that he wanted to overthrow American democracy.

Prosecutors also said he lied under oath about his motive for throwing the flagpole at the head of an officer and about his desire to violently overthrow Congress, claiming in court he wanted to use lawful processes to challenge the 2020 presidential election.

The memo also said he weakened the police line at the Capitol by joining with other rioters in bringing a large metal banner to the police line, and he brought a pair of goggles and a mask to protect himself against riot control measures.

The sentence requested also takes into account Padilla's "utter lack of remorse" and the need for the sentence to deter Padilla and others from similar conduct, prosecutors said in their memorandum.

Padilla's bragging on the internet was a significant portion of the prosecution's case presentation, seeking to show his intent.

"War isn't glorious," Padilla posted. "It's human beings doing horrible things to each other. I've been to war, and I never want to have to kill another person again in my life. That being said, I think it is very close to the time to raise the Liberty Poles, call out the Militia, and prepare to water the Tree of Liberty again. It's not going to be easy or glorious. It'll be terrible. It will most likely have to be done."

Padilla, in his trial testimony, characterized his comments as "internet bravado," and he said it was nothing he really planned to do.

"We have to take over the Seat of Power, the Capitol Building," Padilla said in a post prosecutors included in the memorandum. "We have to declare our dissolution of the Government, listing our reasons why as directed by Thomas Jefferson in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence."

According to evidence presented in court, after the rally at the Ellipse, Padilla made his way to the Capitol building, arriving at the West Plaza at about 1:20 p.m., according to a statement on the sentence from the U.S. Attorney's Office. At the Capitol, he approached a line of Metropolitan Police Department officers who were standing behind a bike rack barricade. As he got closer, he berated the officers, calling them "traitors" and "oath breakers."

In the chaos, Padilla messaged a family member, "It's not a rally anymore it's a revolution."

In total, Padilla spent three hours on the West Front of the Capitol, breaking through police lines, rallying other rioters to join him, and relentlessly berating police, prosecutors said.

In the 32 months since the breach at the Capitol, more than 1,100 people have been charged in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the riot, including more than 396 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, a felony. The investigations are ongoing, federal officials said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.

  photo  Bradley County Sheriff Office / Joseph Lino "Jose" Padilla.