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NC man pleads guilty to Jan. 6-related felony charge of assaulting a DC police officer

A Gaston County man faces up to four years in prison after pleading guilty Friday to a felony charge of swinging a metal pole at a police officer during the Capitol riot.

Grayson Sherrill, 23, of Cherryville, becomes the second Charlotte-area man — and the second from Gaston County — to enter a felony plea tied to the violent attempt by Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, to block the peaceful transfer of presidential power.

Two witnesses submitted tips to the FBI that identified Grayson Sherrill, left, in this photo taken inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Teh Cherryville resident faces a likely prison sentence after pleading guilty Friday to a felony charge tied to the Capitol Riot.
Two witnesses submitted tips to the FBI that identified Grayson Sherrill, left, in this photo taken inside the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Teh Cherryville resident faces a likely prison sentence after pleading guilty Friday to a felony charge tied to the Capitol Riot.

In October, Jeremy Bertino, 43, of Belmont, a leader of the Proud Boys, the right-wing militia group that the government says was at the center of the violence, pleaded guilty to seditious conspiracy — the most serious charge handed down to date.

He is expected in the coming weeks to testify during the trial of other leaders of the group and will be sentenced at a later date.

Sherrill was arrested in March 2021, one of three Charlotte-area friends who traveled to Washington two years ago for Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally in which the former president repeated his unfounded claims of voter fraud and urged his supporters to march to the Capitol to protest his defeat to Joe Biden.

The resulting mob attack has been tied to five deaths. Some 140 police officers were injured while the Capitol suffered millions of dollars in damages.

Sherrill and his two companions, Elias Irizarry of Rock Hill and Elliott Bishai of Fort Mill, were originally charged with misdemeanors.

Bishai, 20 at the time of his arrest, pleaded guilty and was sentenced in July to 14 days imprisonment.

Irizarry, a freshman at The Citadel at the time of the riot, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in October and awaits sentencing. After his plea, the military college announced that it had suspended Irizarry for at least a semester.

Court documents show the S.C. pair and Sherrill — among the Carolinas’ youngest Jan. 6 defendants — milling through the Capitol with other rioters, taking photos of each other mugging with statues in the Rotunda. Prosecutors say they were illegally inside the building for some 34 minutes.

Afterward, prosecutors say Sherrill deleted videos he’d shot with his phone at the Capitol.

Unlike his friends, Sherrill’s case continued to evolve. He was turned in to the FBI by family relatives and initially charged with nonviolent misdemeanors. That changed in December 2021 when a new indictment charged Sherrill with two felonies — civil disorder, and assaulting, resisting or impeding a police officer using a deadly or dangerous weapon.

Under a plea agreement Sherrill signed last month, federal prosecutors dropped the civil disorder charge. During Sherrill’s Friday plea hearing, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan told Sherrill that his police-assault conviction carries a maximum eight years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prosecutors say Sherrill faces a range of 27 to 46 months. Chutkan, who was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama, will announce the sentence on May 1. She can go above or below the range if she chooses.

Charges involving attacks on police have brought some of the harshest punishments in the sprawling federal investigation — from the 10-year sentence handed down to a retired New York City officer to the 44 months former Fort Bragg soldier James Mault received for firing bear spray at police outside the Capitol.

Mault’s sentence remains the longest yet given to an N.C. defendant in the Jan. 6 riots. At least 35 North Carolinians have been charged. Overall, federal officials have made almost 1,000 arrests.

Photos in Sherrill’s court documents show him and Irizarry walking through the Capitol carrying metal poles that had been broken off of a bicycle barricade outside the building. His indictment says he used it to “forcibly assault, resist, oppose, impede, intimidate and interfere with” a D.C. police officer identified by the initials “D.H.”

Documents are not clear on whether Sherrill struck the officer when he swung the pole at him.

It’s unclear if D.H. is Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who became a worldwide symbol of the violence when video showed him screaming in pain while he was pinned between two Capitol doors during the riot.

Sherrill, who was joined in court by his parents, did not speak during the hearing beyond politely answering Chutkan’s questions about his plea.

Twenty minutes into the routine back-and-forth, Chutkan asked him if he was guilty as charged.

“Yes, your honor,” Sherrill replied.

Chutkan allowed Sherrill, who has no previous criminal record and had abided by the terms of his pretrial release, to return to North Carolina to await his sentencing.

“See you in May. Have a good weekend everyone,” the judge said.