Tampa state attorney sees federal crimes in Capitol siege

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren got his start prosecuting street crimes in Washington, D.C.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren [ SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES ]
Published Jan. 7, 2021

TAMPA — As a stunned nation watched its capitol laid siege Wednesday from riotous supporters of President Donald Trump, images of broken windows, ransacked congressional offices and rampaging vandals spurred questions about whether anyone participating in the chaos would be held responsible.

For Andrew Warren, the elected state attorney for Hillsborough County, evidence of federal crimes was plain to see. The riots, which interrupted congressional certification of the 2020 Electoral College vote, called to mind a case Warren handled early in his legal career.

As a new federal prosecutor in 2008, Warren was assigned to handle street crimes in the Washington, D.C., superior court system. One his most memorable cases involved some 12 to 15 defendants who were accused of disrupting Congress.

As Warren remembers it, the activist group came into the capitol and took seats in the spectator gallery over one of the congressional chambers. They unfurled a banner and began to yell in protest of the Iraq war, disrupting the proceedings. Told to stop, members of the group persisted, leading to their arrests.

The incident was far more innocuous than what the nation saw Wednesday, but it is illustrative of the fine line between lawful protest and criminal action.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re wearing an antifa scarf or a MAGA hat,” Warren said. “There’s no reason for this extremism that manifests in criminality.”

While some arrests came amid Wednesday’s insurrection, most of the mob that invaded and vandalized the capitol later appeared to simply walk out. It remained unclear Thursday why Capitol Police did not immediately arrest some of rioters.

Warren said he hopes federal officials work to identify those who participated and that prosecutions occur.

Late Wednesday, the FBI issued a news release asking the public’s assistance in identifying the rioters. They asked for any relevant information, photographs and videos to be submitted through an online form at

As pictures of the mob circulated on social media, some of its members were tentatively identified.

The Bradenton Herald and other media outlets reported that a man from Parrish, a small community in Manatee County, was photographed smiling and waving as he carried a congressional lectern inside the capitol.

On Thursday, U.S. Capitol Police announced that a Riverview man was among 14 people arrested in the melee. Matthew Council faces a charge of unlawful entry, according to the agency.

Warren said a number of federal criminal statutes could apply to those who participated in the attack. Among them is a federal law on “seditious conspiracy,” which involves using force to prevent the execution of laws.

“Breaking into the capitol and causing them to stop congressional action certainly qualifies,” Warren said. Seditious conspiracy carries up to 20 years in prison.

Anyone identified as having broken windows or vandalized the capitol could be charged with destruction of government property. The crime is a felony if the damage is greater than $100 and carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.

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The act of forcibly entering the capitol is also a crime under the laws of the District of Columbia. It carries a maximum five-year sentence.

Other crimes that could apply include trespassing, disobeying Capitol Police, and assault and battery on law enforcement officers.

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Tampa Bay Times U.S. Capitol coverage

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25TH AMENDMENT: When can it be used against a president?

EDITORIAL: The ugly spectacle perfectly captured the Trump-era GOP.

CLASSROOM TOPICS: Tampa Bay teachers, parents brace for tough conversations after U.S. Capitol siege

POLITIFACT FACT-CHECKS THE SIEGE: Here’s a look at the day’s short session, and the chaos that interrupted it.

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