Newly-sworn in West Virginia Delegate Derrick Evans now faces federal charges after sweeping into the U.S. Capitol with a mob this week, federal law enforcement officials said during a press call today.
“We’re in! We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” the new lawmaker said live on video.
The initial announcement of the charges against Evans came partway into a press briefing today with acting U.S. Attorney Michael Sherwin for the District of Columbia. The federal officials participating in the call seemed to learn of the charges in that moment and said more detail would be released soon.
“I just received word that we have now a signed complaint also against a Delegate who serves in the West Virginia Legislature,” said Ken Kohl, a top deputy federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.
“He has been charged — and, I think, according to reports had recorded himself storming the Capitol — he is charged with entering a restricted area and entering the United States Capitol. That report is also being released today as well. That defendant’s name is Derrick Evans. Derrick Evans.”
A charge of entering restricted government buildings is a misdemeanor, punishable by fines and up to a year in prison. However, the punishment could increase significantly if “the offense results in significant bodily harm.”
The charge applies to buildings where anyone protected by the Secret Service is visiting or buildings with an event of national significance.
Evans was picked up by authorities this afternoon at his Wayne County home. A woman who identified herself as his grandmother commented to WSAZ-TV, “He’s a fine man.” She added sarcastically, “And thank you Mr. Trump for inviting a riot at the White House.”
U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was among elected leaders rushed to safety at the U.S. Capitol this week, earlier today said Evans should face the strongest charges possible.
“I guarantee the FBI will do their job. I don’t know the person. It’s a very, very bad judgment. Very poor judgment,” Manchin said today on “580 Live” on WCHS Radio.
Evans, a Republican from Wayne County just sworn in to West Virginia’s House of Delegates, is contending he was videoing history and swept along with the crowd. But his own video depicts him calling out “Move! Move!” before going through the Capitol door, as security alarms blare.
The mob storming the Capitol disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and 50 police officers were injured. Capitol Police announced one police officer died of injuries sustained during the riot.
The FBI’s Washington Field Office announced Thursday that it was seeking tips and digital media depicting rioting and violence at the U.S. Capitol and surrounding areas.
Jeffrey Rosen, the acting U.S. Attorney General, put out a statement saying federal agents would “continue to methodically assess evidence, charge crimes and make arrests in the coming days and weeks to ensure that those responsible are held accountable under the law.”
U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart for the Southern District of West Virginia had also said agents were ready to “enforce the rule of law.” “The right to peaceful assembly and demonstration is a fundamental right, but that right does not extend to committing violence in the name of any cause or purpose,” Stuart stated Thursday.
Manchin, speaking Thursday on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” spoke generally about criminal penalties for those at the U.S. Capitol but specifically mentioned Evans and said a 6-month sentence for trespassing would be a minimal penalty.
Manchin followed up on radio today by saying Evans clearly crossed the line to interrupt a sacred duty of Congress.
“I just can’t believe that a person that’s been elected as a public official, who takes the same oath of office that everyone else takes to defend and protect the Constitution would be entering into the Capitol, an insurrection, to overthrow a lawful procedure we have to do in order to form our government and our democracy and keep the Republic alive and well,” Manchin said.
Evans, R-Wayne, live-streamed and then deleted videos from inside the Capitol, but others took screenshots and videos of his original.
The video shows a crowd surging through a Capitol door, past security, while an alarm repeatedly blares. As Evans enters an area called National Statuary Hall he celebrates and states his own name: “We’re in! We’re in! Derrick Evans is in the Capitol!” At another point, he turns the camera on himself, wearing a motorcycle helmet.
In a Facebook post on his “Derrick Evans — The Activist” page, Evans said he was on a bus traveling home to West Virginia after the event and said he had acted as “an independent member of the media to film history.”
“I want to assure you all that I did not have any negative interactions with law enforcement nor did I participate in any destruction that may have occurred,” he stated.
In a statement issued Thursday evening, a lawyer for Evans made that same argument.
The three-page statement by attorney John H. Bryan of Union described Evans as an activist and “journalist” who was documenting the day’s events while being swept along in a crowd.
“Given the sheer size of the group walking in, Evans had no choice but to enter,” Bryan wrote. “Evans continued to film once inside. His footage showed that members of the public were already inside the Capitol by the time he entered. Evans’ footage shows no riotous behavior taking place at that time. Protesters can be seen calmly walking around.”
Evans is a first-time officeholder. He placed first in a two-member district in the most recent General Election, with 8,227 votes.
Evans swore to uphold the Constitution last month. All delegates state this oath: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States, and the Constitution of the State of West Virginia, and faithfully discharge the duties of Senator (or Delegate) according to the best of my ability.”
The Legislature is set to convene next Wednesday for a one-day session to select leadership and set rules.
That is a likely moment for a motion to expel Evans from the House of Delegates.
Several of his fellow Republicans, including Delegates Steve Westfall of Jackson County, Ben Queen of Harrison County and Joshua Higginbotham of Putnam County, have already said Evans should resign or be forced out.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, does not have the unilateral power to remove a delegate. Prior to today, Hanshaw said he was gathering more information about Evans’ actions in Washington, D.C. Hanshaw said he was appalled by what occurred there.
“He will need to answer to his constituents and colleagues regarding his involvement in what has occurred,” Hanshaw stated earlier this week.
The incoming House Minority Leader, Doug Skaff, released a statement Thursday afternoon saying Evans should not be seated when the Legislature convenes.
Skaff’s letter to Hanshaw cited West Virginia’s Constitution Article 6, Section 24, which lays out the Legislature’s ability to set its own rules. That section gives the chambers the latitude to determine the qualifications of members, without further defining that.
Skaff further cited the oath delegates take to uphold the U.S. Constitution. He said Evans has already fallen short.
“His actions unequivocally disqualify him from holding public office in this state,” Skaff wrote, “and make him ineligible to be seated as a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.”