Judge detains former Special Forces soldier charged with assaulting police during Capitol siege

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A former Special Forces soldier who has worked as a CIA and State Department contractor in recent years will be detained pending a trial on charges that he assaulted four police officers during the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Federal District Court Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said Tuesday the evidence that Jeffrey McKellop — a decorated veteran of multiple overseas tours — targeted police for assault and came equipped for battle suggests he presents a threat if released before his trial.

“Unfortunately, Mr. McKellop, I think that you are a danger to the community,” Faruqui said.

“It’s frightening, frankly, to see what happened that day,” Faruqui continued. “This is one of the most egregious cases in terms of violence toward police officers.”

Prosecutors’ case against McKellop is one of the gravest lodged by prosecutors outside of the conspiracy charges against members of the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers militias.

Faruqui’s determination was delayed a day after McKellop passed out during his detention hearing on Monday, requiring medical attention. McKellop addressed Faruqui on Tuesday, apologizing for the episode, which he said was the result of missing his inhaler Monday, when the stress of the hearing triggered an asthma attack.

McKellop is the latest former service member among dozens arrested for participating in the Jan. 6 riot, but his resume is the longest and most recent. According to court papers, McKellop served more than 22 years in active-duty military service — including nine in the Special Forces — retiring in 2010 after a career that earned him multiple decorations, including the 3 Bronze Stars and a Meritorious Service Award.

“In that capacity, the defendant received extensive military and combat training—including close-quarters combat training—dating back to the 1990’s,” prosecutors said in their filings. “He has deployed overseas as recently as 2018 as a contractor working for the Central Intelligence Agency and Department of State.”

According to the Justice Department, McKellop — clad in body armor and a gas mask — targeted high-ranking Capitol Police who were working to control the oncoming mob. McKellop, prosecutors say, attempted to grab a canister of pepper spray from one officer and speared another in the face with a flagpole, causing lacerations.

A search of McKellop’s residences turned up a flashbang in his kitchen and evidence of a “go bag” — complete with a firearm — that prosecutors said could be used to flee justice if McKellop is not held pending trial.

In court papers, McKellop has contended that the alleged assaults were not premeditated and that McKellop’s presence at the Capitol owed entirely to a fellow Special Forces veteran who had asked him to attend Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 rally that day and wanted him there for protection against potential anti-Trump counterprotesters.

That fellow soldier, Scott Steiert, said in a letter to the court that McKellop would not have been in Washington that day but for his request.

“I have known Jeff for over 20 yrs, and I am extremely shocked and disappointed in his actions,” Seiert wrote. “How Jeff acted during the protests is out of his character.”

During Monday’s hearing, McKellop’s attorney Seth Peritz also argued that the alleged assaults occurred in a relatively short timespan — about a minute-and-a-half — amid a chaotic environment. He wasn’t part of any group or organized assault, he said. Peritz also noted that McKellop reached out to a lawyer as soon as he learned the FBI was seeking him in February and that he arranged a voluntary surrender earlier this month.

“He had time when he wasn’t sure if they were going to arrest him to run. He had time when he was sure they were going to arrest him to flee, and he didn’t,” Peritz said.

Peritz noted that the government didn’t arrest McKellop for weeks after identifying him, which he said proves that they don’t consider him a danger to the community. But judges have rejected similar arguments in other cases, noting that the mob chaos of the Jan. 6 attack prevented police from making immediate arrests and has slowed prosecutors’ ability to gather evidence in the sprawling investigation.

And prosecutors said all of the defense’s contentions that he didn’t pre-plan his attack may be true, but that’s not how the events of the day played out.

“He puts the gas mask on to go and assault the officers, not to protect himself from counterprotesters,” said assistant U.S. attorney Daniel Honold.

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