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4 Riverside County men sentenced to federal prison for Jan. 6 Capitol riot

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RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CNS) — Four Riverside County men who joined thousands in the unrest that led to the breach of the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021, were sentenced Friday to federal prison to serve terms varying from just under two years to nearly three years.

Erik Scott Warner, 48, of Menifee; Felipe Antonio Martinez, 50; and Derek Kinnison, 42 — both of Lake Elsinore — along with Ronald Mele, 54, of Temecula were all convicted in November during a trial at U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., of conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and obstruction of an official proceeding.

Warner and Kinnison were additionally convicted of tampering with documents.

All four were also found guilty of misdemeanor charges of entering a restricted building and disruptive conduct in a restricted building.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth sentenced Kinnison and Mele each to 33 months behind bars, while Martinez was ordered to serve a 21-month term, and Warner was sentenced to 27 months.

The judge also ordered the foursome to each pay $2,000 in restitution to the government and remain on parole for 36 months following their release.

Kinnison’s attorney, Nicolai Cocis of Murrieta, in November described his client as “a patriotic citizen who wanted to show his support for President Donald Trump, whom he believed was the rightful winner of the 2020 election.”

The attorney told City News Service at the time that Kinnison regretted “his involvement in the events of Jan. 6 at the Capitol.”

Federal prosecutors argued the four joined thousands who sought to disrupt proceedings at the Capitol, where Congress was preparing to certify the Electoral College vote recognizing President-elect Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

They were part of a group called the “Three Percenters,” which has been described variously as a militia, political action organization and anti-government movement around since the 2000s. Some members draw parallels between themselves and the rebel forces opposing the British Empire during the War for American Independence.

The indictment stated the men coordinated via social media on logistics for their trip to the nation’s capital for the “Stop the Steal” rally announced by then-President Trump. Kinnison said in a Telegram post that they would be transporting “lots of gear, from medical kits, radios, multiple cans of bear spray, knives, flags, plates, goggles, helmets.”

He later posted a selfie with a bandolier of shotgun ammunition hung over his shoulders, according to court papers.

“It came out in the trial that my client took two handguns with him when he drove across the country,” Cocis said. “But those legally owned firearms never left his hotel room after they arrived in Washington.”

He said they were only taken for self-defense in case violence erupted after the rally.

The defendants joined streams of people who walked to the Capitol Building after Trump spoke on the Ellipse.

As the four approached the building in the early afternoon of Jan. 6, 2021, Kinnison shouted, “This is the storm of the Capitol,” as they moved through the crowd, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Minutes later, Warner joined protesters ascending the northwest stairs to the Upper West Terrace. Then Martinez, Kinnison and Mele advanced on a police line on the northwest lawn, prosecutors said. Warner accessed the Capitol Building via a broken window, at which point Martinez, Kinnison and Mele went to the terrace in an attempt to rendezvous with him, but the defense said the trio ultimately elected not to enter the building.

All of the men were clad in ballistic vests and carrying gas masks and cans of bear spray, though none were accused of dispersing it.

Prosecutors said in the ensuing weeks, Warner and Kinnison deleted chats from their phones to conceal their involvement.

Kinnison, Martinez, Melee and Warner represent the last of the Riverside County residents sentenced for actions on Jan. 6.

In January 2023, 46-year-old Andrew Alan Hernandez of Jurupa Valley was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after admitting a charge of aiding and abetting in the obstruction of an official proceeding. Security surveillance camera images from inside the halls of Congress showed him carrying an American flag with a Go-Pro camera attached to the pole and snapping selfies, alongside some others who appeared to be peaceful.

In October 2022, Rafael Valadez Jr., 44, of Indio admitted a misdemeanor count of picketing in the Capitol Building and was sentenced to 30 days behind bars. Valadez stood in front of a senator’s office, using his camera phone to video people going in and out. He left the building after 25 minutes, according to federal investigators.

In March 2022, Kevin Strong, 47, of Wildomar admitted the same offense and was sentenced to 24 months’ probation. Photos submitted to the court showed Strong following a crowd through the Statuary Hall corridor, where he took pictures, spoke to a group of police officers watching protesters, then left.

No other county residents were among the nearly 1,400 people charged nationwide in connection the breach.

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