Court Doc Shows Govt’s Plea Negotiations With Famous Metal Guitarist Charged In Capitol Riot

TOPSHOT - Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presiden... TOPSHOT - Supporters of US President Donald Trump protest inside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. - Demonstrators breeched security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the a 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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The federal government let slip Monday that it was negotiating a potential plea deal with a famous heavy metal guitarist accused of using bear spray against police on Jan. 6. 

The plea negotiations with Jon Schaffer, guitarist and main songwriter for the metal band Iced Earth, are “the first and most advanced plea negotiations involving any of the over 300 Capitol Riot defendants,” prosecutors said in a court filing Monday — one that it appeared was posted to Schaffer’s publicly accessible online court record by mistake, and was quickly removed. 

Schaffer was a high-profile early arrest in the Capitol Attack case, charged with multiple counts including engaging in an act of physical violence in a Capitol building and violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building. 

According to an FBI agent’s affidavit written in January, Schaffer — described as “a person of some celebrity in the heavy metal music industry” — was among the rioters who used bear spray against United States Capitol police officers during the attack. The alleged bear spray use was part of rioters’ efforts to push the officers back and breach the Capitol Building, the affidavit alleged. 

But according to the court filing that was briefly made public on Monday, Schaffer has engaged in “a series of debrief interviews” with the government since March 2. While there have been reports, and murmurs from lawyers about plea negotiations, the Schaffer document offers the most detail yet on the status of one particularly high-profile case. Schaffer’s attorney, Marc J. Victor, declined TPM’s request for comment on Tuesday. 

“Based on these debrief interviews, the parties are currently engaged in good-faith plea negotiations, including discussions about the possibility of entering into a cooperation plea agreement aimed at resolving the matter short of indictment,” the filing, signed by an assistant U.S. attorney, read. 

Schaffer’s release from detention pending sentencing was among the contemplated plea terms, the filing said. It asked the court to reschedule a detention hearing date initially set for Tuesday. (District of Columbia Chief Judge Beryl Howell subsequently delayed the hearing until April 21.) 

The plea terms have required “extensive” review at various levels, requiring more time than usual to approve and negotiate, prosecutors said in the filing. They noted that forestalling a grand jury indictment was part of the good-faith plea negotiations — but a footnote in the document referenced a sealed portion of a previous hearing, in which the government said it was in a position to “rapidly” obtain an indictment should negotiations fail. 

The document concluded with a request that it be filed under seal — a request that, at least initially, was apparently lost in communication — given the sensitive, non-public information about Schaffer’s cooperation with the government and ongoing plea negotiations. 

“If alerted to this information, investigation targets against whom the defendant may be providing information about could be immediately prompted to flee from prosecution, destroy or conceal incriminating evidence, alter their operations tactics to avoid future detention, attempt to influence or intimidate potential witnesses, and otherwise take steps to undermine the investigation and avoid future prosecution,” the filing read. 

This post has been updated.

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