By Richard Sullins | richard@rantnc.com

A 30-year-old Sanford man charged in 2022 in connection with the events that took place at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, was convicted on August 31 in a Washington, D.C. courtroom on five felony and three misdemeanor charges.

While he awaits sentencing later this fall, David Joseph Gietzen remains free on his own recognizance. Given the manner in which other defendants who have faced similar charges resulting from their roles in the breach of the Capitol, his conviction could result in years spent in prison.

Gietzen’s trial began August 28 with the selection of twelve jurors and two alternates. He found guilty on one count of civil disorder and aiding and abetting; two counts of assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers; one count of assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers using a deadly or dangerous weapon; and one count of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, all of which were felonies punishable by a year or more in prison.

The jury also found Gietzen guilty of three related misdemeanor offenses, including disorderly or disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds; engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds; and acts of physical violence in the Capitol grounds or buildings.

Testimony in the trial took two days, as the U.S. Attorney’s Office called officers of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department and agents from the FBI and the Secret Service. The jury in the case deliberated for two hours before returning its verdicts.

His conviction on entering and remaining in restricted grounds or building related to the presence of the vice president in the Capitol at the time of the insurrection. While most sections of the Capitol Building are open to the public during regular business hours, portions, or in some cases the entire complex, can become restricted when persons such as the president or vice president are there to conduct official business.

Beginning with the start of business on January 6, the Capitol complex had been restricted to persons authorized to be working there, and that included Vice President Mike Pence, who was inside the Capitol presiding over a joint session of Congress to count and certify the electoral votes of the states resulting from the 2020 election.

The government’s case

The U.S. Attorney’s Office presented its case against Gietzen over two days as jurors listened to witnesses and viewed exhibits. Through Capitol surveillance cameras, Gietzen’s movements that day were able to be established on an almost minute-by-minute basis, and other photographs and video recordings were able to provide details about his actions during the melee.

Evidence showed Gietzen traveled to D.C. with his brother to attend the “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse behind the White House at approximately 12:30 p.m. Gietzen told the FBI that in the confusion of the crowd as it marched to the base of Capitol Hill, he never set foot on the grounds of the Capitol or crossed police lines, despite evidence established by the videos and pictures.

After Trump’s remarks brought the rally behind the White House to a close, Gietzen marched along with thousands of others who crossed police lines illegally along a security perimeter that had been established around the Capitol grounds.

In the days that followed the insurrection, the FBI and Metropolitan Police Department received tens of thousands of tips from people who believed they recognized a person in the crowd gathered there along the police lines, but the sheer volume of photographs and video recordings meant that combing through them meticulously to make identifications would be a painstaking process.

It was one such tipster who contacted the FBI on Valentine’s Day in 2021 and first identified Gietzen after seeing his picture posted on the agency’s website collection of unidentified participants in the riot.

A second person also positively identified him from the same photograph and provided screen shots of group text messages indicating Gietzen had participated in the riot and assaults on the officers. It was this second tipster who also provided photographs to the FBI of Gietzen taken on the grounds of the Capitol on January 6. A third person, who also knew Gietzen and examined the previously provided photographs said they were both “definitely” of Gietzen.

FBI photo
FBI photo

The man from Sanford was wearing a distinctive green jacket that afternoon and through the earliest moments of conflicts with police officers on the Capitol’s West Terrace, he can also be seen wearing what appears to be a white football-type helmet as fighting breaks out between the rioters and the officers. Those identifying features made it possible to follow Gietzen’s movements and establish his actions in real time.

For example, the photos and video show Gietzen carrying a long pole and appearing to strike an officer with it in the gap between his police helmet and the shoulder connection to his protective vest. He told investigators that his action was an attempt to force the officer to move.

Closed circuit security footage made by Capitol Police cameras shows him actively involved in the confrontations with officers for 17 minutes at the very beginnings of the riot, and he appears again on the recordings just before 4 p.m. at the entrance to the West Front tunnel, pushing with others in the mob to overrun the officers’ final line of defense. These were the bloodiest moments of the fighting.

Arrested here in Sanford

The FBI arrested Gietzen and took him into custody on May 11 of 2022. The FBI explained that despite the early identifications of his presence and involvement in the events that took place that day, months of additional work were required to build a compelling case. In addition to the criminal penalties associated with his convictions, they also carry potential financial penalties as well.

Just before the start of the trial, Gietzen’s court-appointed attorneys had filed a series of motions to move it to another location in a failed attempt to persuade the judge that their client could not get a fair trial in D.C., and to “sterilize (the government’s) language and its evidence in describing his crimes,” according to a brief filed by U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves.

Among the items Gietzen sought to block were two text messages sent and received after January 6 about his plans to attend the inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20.

A court filing stated that at least two text messages were found on Gietzen’s cell phones shortly after January 6, both indicating his plans to attend the inauguration and that “their plan was to force their way in the Capitol building to force Congress to hold another election, and that the Gietzen brothers were also at the U.S. Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.”

An FBI agent contacted Gietzen through his cell phone on January 19 – the day before Biden’s inauguration – and Gietzen told the agent that they were on their way to attend the event and had no plans to commit any violent acts.

Cases are still being tried

Gietzen is the only defendant known to have been publicly identified as being in Washington for the riot at the Capitol and again for the presidential inauguration 14 days later.

In the 32 months since the first attack on the U.S. Capitol since the British burned it in 1814, 1,106 persons have been charged from nearly all of the 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the Capitol, including 350 people charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement officers. At least 500 of the rioters have entered guilty pleas in the two and a half years since the riot took place.

The FBI’s webpage for its investigation of the crime show that more than 500 persons who engaged in the insurrection remain unidentified and are still being sought.