A truck driver who attacked a police officer with a flagpole at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was sentenced to 52 months in prison on Monday.
The attack by the driver, Peter Stager, provided one of the most disturbing images to emerge from the attack on the Capitol. Mr Stager, 44, of Conway, Ark., was caught on video beating the officer, Blake Miller, with the flagpole in a fit of rage as Officer Miller lay face down in a crowd of other rioters with “no means to defend himself,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.
Mr. Stager was one of nine men charged with assaulting Officer Miller and two of his colleagues, Officers Carter Moore and Andrew Wayte, in a 90-second spate of violence that unfolded on the steps outside a tunnel near the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace. Officers who fell victim to attacks in a tunnel on the terrace and on the steps there have repeatedly likened the violence to the hand-to-hand combat of a medieval battle.
After assaulting Officer Miller, prosecutors say, Mr. Stager was caught on video pointing to the Capitol and declaring, “Everyone in there is a disgrace. That whole building is full of treacherous traitors. Death is the only cure for what is in that building.”
He continued, “Each one of those Capitol law enforcement officers, death is the cure. That’s the only cure they get.”
In court documents filed before sentencing in Washington’s Federal District Court, Mr. Stager’s attorneys told Judge Rudolph Contreras that their client, like many Jan. 6 defendants, had experienced a traumatic childhood. During his early years, the lawyers wrote, Mr. Stager was homeless, sleeping under California benches and stealing food from stores and dumpsters.
After Mr Stager’s mother abandoned him and his siblings, he ended up in foster care at about age 6, the lawyers said.
The attorneys told Judge Contreras that Mr. Stager was alone in Washington on Jan. 6 because of a scheduling conflict with his transportation company’s dispatch service. After delivering a shipment of produce to a destination near Washington, the lawyers wrote, he chose not to drive an empty truck back to Arkansas, realizing he wouldn’t make any money and would have to pay for fuel.
Instead, the lawyers said, Mr. Stager decided to “make the best of the situation” and attend President Donald J. Trump’s meeting at Washington’s Ellipse on the morning of Jan. 6.
“This decision is one Mr. Stager will regret for the rest of his life,” the lawyers wrote.
As the crowd moved from Mr. Trump’s speech at the White House to the Capitol and grew increasingly violent, “Mr. Stager’s emotional state was in turmoil,” his lawyers wrote. Finally, “seeing red,” they said, he grabbed a flagpole that was on the ground and went after Officer Miller.
Mr Stager apologized to the officer in a letter submitted with his lawyer’s application, saying he had “no hatred towards law enforcement, let alone anyone”.
Three of Mr Stager’s co-defendants – Justin Jersey, Logan Barnhart and Mason Courson – have also been convicted of assault. Each was sentenced to three to five years in prison, a relatively modest sentence for cases involving assault on police.
Other rioters convicted of assaulting officers have received some of the harshest sentences of all the more than 1,000 people charged in connection with the Capitol bombing.
A Pennsylvania welder who attacked officers with a chair and then chemical spray was sentenced in May to more than 14 years in prison. The following month, a California man was sentenced to more than 12 years in prison for twice driving a taser into Officer Michael Fanone’s neck.