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Capitol riot participant from Clinton seeks early probation termination

By Mark Shenefelt - | Aug 2, 2022

Jose Luis Magana, Associated Press

Rioters stand outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.

CLINTON — A former police officer convicted of illegally entering the U.S. Capitol in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot has asked to be freed from his sentence of probation, contending the 18 months of supervision should continue only for “political reasons.”

“I just don’t think it to be fair for the U.S. government to keep continuing to upend mine and my family’s life by having me on probation,” Michael Lee Hardin, of Clinton, said in a U.S. District Court motion.

Hardin, 50, a retired 20-year Salt Lake City police officer, was sentenced in April in Washington, D.C., federal court after pleading guilty to class B misdemeanor parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol. Three other charges were dismissed in a plea bargain.

Hardin said in a phone interview Tuesday that his request for an early end to probation “is from the heart.” He said the FBI and the Department of Justice have treated Jan. 6 defendants “so bad.”

He said he was incredulous that Guy Reffitt, a member of the Texas Three Percenters militia group, got seven years in prison Monday, the longest sentence so far against a rioter. Reffitt “never assaulted anyone — he only used his voice,” Hardin said. Prosecutors said Reffitt carried a holstered handgun and wore a helmet and body armor and threatened to drag House Speaker Nancy Pelosi out of the Capitol by her ankles.

Photo supplied, FBI

Michael Lee Hardin poses inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, with a bust of President Abraham Lincoln. This photo was submitted in court by federal prosecutors in their case against Hardin.

Federal prosecutors said in charging documents that Hardin watched and cheered as Capitol police officers were “crushed” by insurrectionists and that he then entered the Senate gallery.

Prosecutors recommended that Hardin receive 45 days in jail. Judge Timothy Kelly ordered no jail time, sentencing Hardin to 30 days of home confinement, 18 months of probation, 60 hours of community service and payment of $500 in restitution.

Hardin has served four months of probation. He said he has completed community service and paid restitution. Hardin said in his motion that U.S. Probation Office agents handling his case have told him that the case “is such a low priority that it really does not warrant the resources to follow up. … To me, this seems to be an unnecessary drain on government resources and could be used for higher priorities.”

In his motion, which was filed July 19, Hardin said, “I think the prosecution would disagree with ending the probation, but merely for political reasons and not practical reasons or what’s in the best interest of all involved parties.”

Hardin acknowledged it was “a poor decision” to enter the Capitol, but he said he did so “without an ounce of malice.” He said he considers himself “a true patriot” and regrets the stress and heartache his case has caused his family.

He wants freedom to resume travel, to possess firearms and to try to begin rebuilding a career in law enforcement.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office urged rejection of Hardin’s motion, saying granting it would “undermine due respect for the law” and create a sentencing disparity. For instance, the prosecution said, Hardin already got a more lenient sentence than did his stepmother-in-law, Janet West Buhler, of Kaysville.

Buhler, 58, accompanied Hardin to Washington and into the Capitol. The FBI said she later deleted photos of the riot that she took with her phone, and prosecutors were disbelieving of her explanation that she deleted the photos because they were “unflattering” of her. Many Capitol riot participants were tracked down based on electronic records on their social media accounts and phones.

The two Utahns stood feet away, clapping and cheering, as rioters “violently assaulted and physically crushed officers guarding both sides of the East Rotunda doors to the Capitol,” prosecutors’ response to Hardin’s motion said. Instead of leaving, they walked upstairs and entered the Senate gallery, two of only a handful of rioters who went there.

Hardin sent text messages to family and friends saying, “We stormed the Capitol. I am in here now!”; “I know you don’t like Trump, but He is the rightful President”; and “We will return until we win!”

Despite his two decades of police service, Hardin told FBI agents he did not know he had broken the law on Jan. 6. But Judge Timothy Kelly admonished Hardin at sentencing that it was criminal to belong to any violent mob, “even a small part of a mob.” The judge said, “There’s nothing patriotic about it, and no matter how much any of us might not like the way the process of electing the president is proceeding, it’s something we just can’t do.”

Prosecutors on Tuesday said that Hardin’s request was on thin grounds because many courts have recognized that “mere compliance with the terms of probation does not warrant early termination.” New or unforeseen circumstances must be present, and Hardin has not demonstrated any, they said.

Hardin’s hope for returning to police work is slim, prosecutors added: “It is unlikely that any law enforcement agency would hire an individual who entered the United States Capitol with a violent mob intending to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College vote. And even more unlikely for an individual caught on surveillance footage encouraging a violent attack on police officers.”

In a court memo before Hardin’s sentencing, defense attorney Scott C. Williams said Hardin found himself to be “imbued with the herd mentality” of people entering the Capitol. “He did not damage property or take anything,” Williams said. “He never publicly glorified what he did and he has accepted full responsibility for his utter lapse of judgment.”

Williams said Hardin’s “aberrant” conduct that day should not mar his long history of helping people.

“He knows he is not being punished for his political views, but for his criminal actions,” Williams wrote. “His occupation and livelihood has been decimated. He is suffering and will continue to suffer the stigma of his actions.”

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