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First South Carolinian sentenced for Jan. 6 Capitol storming gets no prison time

Alleged photo of Andrew Hatley (copy)

Long-haul trucker Andrew Hatley wears a cowboy hat and gas mask during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Hatley is the first South Carolinian to be sentenced in connection with the historic assault on the Capitol. Source: FBI complaint

The first South Carolinian to be sentenced for storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 won’t spend any time behind bars.

Instead, a federal judge sentenced Newberry trucker Andrew Hatley, 34, to three years of probation for his role in a historic assault aimed at overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.

"Far better than I deserve, your honor," Hatley told Judge Thomas Hogan during the hourlong hearing Dec. 16.

Sentences like Hatley’s have become common for scores of Jan. 6 defendants who, like him, joined the mob that swept through the Capitol building but weren’t accused of assaulting the police officers who guarded it. Federal prosecutors recommended no prison time for Hatley, even as they stressed that Hatley's participation contributed to the mob’s strength in numbers.

“As this Court knows, a riot cannot occur without rioters, and each rioter’s actions — from the most mundane to the most violent — contributed, directly and indirectly, to the violence and destruction of that day,” prosecutors wrote in Hatley’s case.

Federal investigators have charged more than 700 people from all 50 states with breaking into the Capitol building and briefly stopping Congress from affirming Democrat Joe Biden as the country’s next president. More than 220 of them are charged with assaulting or impeding police that day — some with their fists, others with clubs or flagpoles.

A Post and Courier analysis of the cases of South Carolina’s 11 Capitol defendants found they were devoted to then-President Donald Trump and believed his false claims that Democrats stole the 2020 election with strategic fraud in battleground states.

Five of those S.C. defendants have already pleaded guilty, and a sixth plans to do so next month, court records show.

Before handing down Hatley's sentence, Hogan noted he had no prior criminal record and didn’t fight with police or vandalize the Capitol. He also appreciated that Hatley has shown great remorse for his involvement since his Jan. 19 arrest.

“Going in there wasn’t right,” Hatley told Hogan. “And probably coming down here (to Washington, D.C.) wasn’t right to begin with. I wish I hadn’t.”

Hatley’s attorney, Joseph Conte, asked Hogan to impose just probation and community service. Prosecutors asked for two months of house arrest, three years of probation and 60 hours of community service.

Hatley had already agreed to pay $500 in restitution to help cover the estimated $1.5 million in damage that the riot caused to the Capitol building.

Hatley drove to Washington from South Carolina on Jan. 5 to join a rally the next day protesting the 2020 election results. After hearing Trump speak, he joined the throngs of people marching toward the Capitol.

He would later tell investigators he witnessed a chaotic, "very overwhelming" scene on the west side of the Capitol building as rioters climbed scaffolding, banged on doors and windows and clashed with police. But he continued toward the Capitol anyway.

Hatley climbed into the building through a smashed window around 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 6, about 20 minutes after police ordered Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress to evacuate for their own safety.

Wearing a gas mask and a black cowboy hat, he strolled around the building’s interior for about 15 minutes. He snapped selfies of himself and the mob, including one in front of the statue of former Vice President John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina native.

At one point, Hatley apparently second-guessed his decision to enter the building. He left the building through the same window he entered, but then reentered after just two minutes. Hatley walked around until a Capitol employee suggested he leave.

Like most of South Carolina’s other Capitol defendants, Hatley was turned in by tipsters who knew him.

The first Hatley tip came in at 4:18 p.m. on Jan. 6, less than 90 minutes after he entered the Capitol building and before security officers had even cleared the building of rioters.

Hatley was arrested on Jan. 19, becoming the Palmetto State’s first Capitol defendant. In September, he became the first South Carolinian to plead guilty in connection with the riot. And on Dec. 16, he became the first to be sentenced.

Hatley initially faced four charges but pleaded down to a single misdemeanor. He has been out of jail on bail since Jan. 22.

Judge Hogan spoke at length during Hatley's sentencing hearing about the need for harsh penalties for people who helped attack the seat of U.S. democracy and interfered with the peaceful transition of power. 

“There is a narrative being pushed by certain groups in this country that nothing really happened (on Jan. 6)," Hogan said. "That is a narrative that we need to dispel.”

He also expressed that so many self-described patriots fell victim to Trump's "big lie" about 2020 election fraud, describing the former president as a "false prophet."

“Over 140 police were injured as a result of this attack by people who were claiming to be patriots and defending the United States,” Hogan said.

But Hogan also said he didn't believe incarceration was an appropriate punishment for Hatley, a first-time offender who has repeatedly apologized for his role in the riot. And house arrest isn't practical, Hogan said, since Hatley mostly lives out of his truck and only sleeps on a friend's couch in Newberry a handful of nights each month.

For his part, Hatley said he has lost friends since his arrest. "Half the people that I've known all my life won't speak to me anymore."

He said he regrets that the country has become so divided, turning "politics into something ugly where people can't talk anymore," but recognizes his role in making things worse.

"I've only got one lifetime, your honor," he said, "and I don't think it's enough to make up for it."

Reach Avery Wilks at 803-374-3115. Follow him on Twitter at @AveryGWilks. Send tips to averywilks93@protonmail.com.