A counterdemonstrator charged with violently disrupting a March 4 pro-Trump Capitol rally may plead self-defense at trial, according to court filings.
Bruce Nestor, a Minneapolis civil rights attorney, represents defendant Starr Antoinette Vann-Jackson, 21, of St. Paul (who was identified as Austin Marcus Jackson at the time of his arrest). In a letter filed with Ramsey County District Court Sept. 28, Nestor indicated he “intends to assert self-defense and the defense of others at trial.”
Vann-Jackson faces two gross misdemeanor counts. The first is for allegedly using tear gas and a stun gun on a demonstrator inside the Capitol during the rally-turned-melee. The second is a charge of third-degree riot. Both gross misdemeanors carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
According his criminal complaint, Vann-Jackson was arrested after he was identified by police in photographs taken at the Capitol that day.
Nestor said he is reviewing evidence and has made no final decision whether he will recommend a self-defense assertion for his client. The written notice, he said, simply preserves his client’s right to assert that defense if the case proceeds to trial.
However, Nestor said his review of the evidence suggests such a defense might be warranted. “There certainly is a different narrative about what went on there than what you have seen,” the lawyer said.
According to the complaint against him, Vann-Jackson was among several counterdemonstrators dressed in black at the rally, some of whom — Vann-Jackson allegedly included — wore goggles and masks to conceal their identities.
As the rally got underway, the complaint states, counterdemonstrators began chanting, yelling, blowing whistles and using air horns to disrupt the permitted rally. One of them threw a smoke bomb, the complaint says.
The complaint says that Trump supporters formed a line to block counterdemonstrators from getting to the bottom of the Capitol steps and onto the rotunda, where Trump supporters had a permit to gather. “Tensions escalated,” the Vann-Jackson complaint states, “with both sides chanting and yelling at each other.”
Counterdemonstrators tried to push against the wall of Trump supports who blocked their progress, the complaint states. At that point, a counterdemonstrators sprayed mace at a rally participants then ran upstairs. Confronted by a State Trooper, that counterdemonstrator ran back downstairs, shoving people out of the way.
That counterdemonstrator—allegedly Anton William Bueckert, 30, of Canada—was caught at the bottom of the stairs by a State Trooper as he tried to flee, the complaint against him states. The trooper’s thumb was broken in the process.
Vann-Jackson was allegedly one of several counterdemonstrators who sprayed mace in the faces of Trump supporters. He is alleged also to have deployed a stun gun, zapping a rally-goer on the shoulder. Police said they identified Vann-Jackson later by analyzing photos taken during the rally.
Nestor stopped short of accusing prosecutors of targeting just one side for prosecution — though only counterdemonstrators were charged. He said his own analysis suggests that authorities leaned heavily on evidence submitted by pro-Trump demonstrators as the basis for charges.
“They were gathering information off social media and videos and then turning it over to the state troopers,” he said.
To conclude that Trump supporters also engaged in physical altercations would be “a fair reading of the events,” Nestor said. “There was a confrontation going on and it wasn’t just a one-sided thing,” he said.
Nestor said his client could assert a self-defense claim even while refusing to concede that officials properly identified him as a suspect. “We are not admitting that Mr. Jackson engaged in any such act,” the defense lawyer said.
Officials at the St. Paul city attorney’s office, which is prosecuting Vann-Jackson’s case, did not respond to requests for comment by deadline.
Vann-Jackson was initially scheduled to appear before Ramsey County District Court Judge DeAnne M. Hilgers for an omnibus hearing on Oct. 15. That hearing is rescheduled for Oct. 30, at 9 a.m., before Hilgers.
Felony cases proceeding
Cases against seven other counterdemonstrators at the March 4 rally also are proceeding.
One of them, Francis Thomas Sagermerek, 29, is charged with felony use of tear gas to immobilize. A second charge of third-degree riot was initially announced as a felony charge because of a computer-filing error, said Ramsey County Attorney’s office spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein. In fact, it is a gross misdemeanor and that is the second charge Sagermerek faces.
Sagermerek also was accused of spraying mace into the face of a Trump rally-goer in the Capitol. On Aug. 21, he petitioned the court to drop the felony charge against him in exchange guilty plea on the gross misdemeanor, according to court records. That offer was accepted and Sagermerek is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 9 in Ramsey County District Court Judge Richard Kyle’s courtroom.
Bueckert still faces three felony charges connected to the rally—though one of appears to be listed erroneously as a felony. Bueckert is charged with felony obstruction of the legal process and felony use of tear gas to immobilize. A third charge for felony third-degree riot using unlawful force or violence is identical to the charge initially listed as a felony against Sagermerek. Gerhardstein said in an email that that third count “should be charged as a gross misdemeanor.”
Bueckert’s lawyer, Richard LeRoy, on Oct. 10 filed a motion for a continuance for his client, who lives in Canada and has yet to make a court appearance. Bueckert recently took a job in Canada “exercising horses,” the attorney told the court in writing.
“It would be an extreme detriment in time, employment and money to have [the] defendant return to Minnesota for a 20-minute hearing,” LeRoy’s continuance petition says. He proposed the Bueckert be allowed to waive his appearance at a pretrial hearing and allow attorneys “to work toward a settlement” in his absence.
That continuance was granted, LeRoy said in a brief interview Monday. His client’s pretrial hearing is set for the afternoon of Oct. 25, after this edition’s deadline. LeRoy said that, among his arguments Wednesday, he planned to seek a reduction of the third count to a gross misdemeanor.
With the exception of Vann-Jackson, all counterdemonstrators charged with simple misdemeanors after the March 4 rally are due in court on Oct. 31, for omnibus hearings before Judge Hilgers. All have entered not guilty pleas.
Linwood “Woody” Kaine is the highest-profile suspect. The son of former vice-presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, he is a St. Paul native who allegedly was among the disruptive counterdemonstrators. Most fled the Capitol on foot only to be chased down by police, according to their criminal complaints.
Once caught, Kaine, 25, briefly resisted arrest by “swinging his arms” and “bucking and flailing his arms and legs,” though he soon stopped resisting. Those alleged actions landed him a gross misdemeanor count of obstructing the legal process, and two misdemeanor counts for fleeing police and concealing his identity in public. His Minneapolis attorney, John Barham, could not be reached for comment.
The remaining suspects all face two identical misdemeanor counts of fleeing police on foot and concealing their identities in public. They include:
The misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor charges were brought by the office of St. Paul City Attorney Samuel J. Clark. John Choi’s Ramsey County Attorney’s office charged out the felonies.