Declaring that her role in the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot was “minimal,” a federal judge in Washington, D.C., agreed Friday to grant probation to a Northern California woman rather than impose up to six months in custody.
U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman sentenced Valerie Elaine Ehrke of Arbuckle to three years of probation and 120 hours of community service, and ordered her to pay $500 in restitution to the Architect of the Capitol.
The judge also ordered Ehrke to stay out of the District of Columbia during her probation, and he made it clear that he and other judges in the district consider the events of Jan. 6 a serious assault on democracy.
“If you want to demonstrate in front of our courthouse, that’s your right,” Friedman told Ehrke in a virtual hearing between his courtroom and her attorney’s Sacramento office. “If you want to demonstrate in front of Congress, that’s your right.
“But what happened on Jan. 6 was not a peaceful demonstration.”
The judge said the events the day of the insurrection “represent a threat to our democratic norms and continue to resonate in sad and unfortunate ways,” and he noted that such threats are continuing with Saturday’s planned “Justice for J6” demonstration that is in support of the 608 Jan. 6 defendants and has resulted in a security lock down around the U.S. Capitol.
“Those of us in the District of Columbia have seen fencing go up because of the demonstration tomorrow by people who are misguided,” Friedman said.
He added, however, that Ehrke’s involvement was limited to following a crowd about 15 feet into the Senate side of the Capitol and staying inside for only a minute without confronting any police officers.
“She did not engage in that violence, she did not destroy any property,” the judge said.
Ehrke, an home designer, “has been punished about as much as anybody could be punished,” her attorney, Robert Holley told the judge.
Three of her bank accounts — two personal savings and checking accounts and one business checking account — were closed after she was charged and her student pilot certificate was revoked, Holley and Ehrke said.
“When I called (the bank) they said it was merely a business decision, but they wouldn’t give me any details,” Ehrke said. “But it happened so close together that I just knew in my heart that it had something to do with Jan. 6.”
Holley said his client has been humiliated by the publicity the case has received.
“I’ve had Ms. Ehrke in my office numerous times throughout these proceedings and she is absolutely devastated by all of this,” Holley said. “She’s been crying all morning. ... If there’s a lesson to be learned, she’s learned it, believe me.”
Ehrke pleaded guilty in June to a single misdemeanor count of parading or picketing inside a Capitol building, and was one of the first defendants among the 608 charged to date to enter a guilty plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin Birney recommended a sentence of probation and told the judge that, compared to a lot of other defendants, “her role in this is pretty minimal.”
“We all know this was a really serious event,” Birney said.
“We recommended probation for her in this case, which is a pretty good outcome for Ms. Ehrke given how serious the total event was.”
McHugh is the only one of the remaining three who is in custody.