WASHINGTON, D.C. — Elias Irizarry was living the dream he had worked so hard to achieve: Citadel cadet, top grades, a member of the Civil Air Patrol, the admiration of students and instructors.
That was until Jan. 6, 2021, when he joined throngs who stormed the U.S. Capitol, interrupting the certification of President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.
On March 15 in a Washington, D.C., federal courtroom, Irizarry was sentenced to 14 days in jail for the misdemeanor charge of entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds.
U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan could have sentenced Irizarry to up to a year of confinement.
“I made a mistake on January 6th, the worst in my life, and I stood on the wrong side," he said in a statement to the judge. "I chose to allow myself to become a pawn in a struggle to redefine our liberal democracy for the worst.
“I stand here today to tell you that no matter what is decided today, it is my promise that I will someday redeem myself to my family, to you, to the police, and people who work in Congress, to the people of Washington, D.C. who saw their beautiful city desecrated, and to this county,” Irizarry's message concluded.
By his account, and what was promoted by his attorney and supporters who wrote to the judge on Irizarry’s behalf, Irizarry stumbled into Jan. 6 thinking it would be a fun road trip with his best friend and a chance to hear then-President Donald Trump speak.
He and Elliot Bishai entered the Capitol Building only to find their friend Grayson Sherrill, from whom they had become separated.
Irizarry was sick with shame after seeing the news reports of what happened that day, he said.
To prosecutors, Irizarry’s behavior that day was far from innocent.
"He was an active participant," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley Akers said during the hearing.
Irizarry and his friends were on the front lines during the rioting that threatened the transfer of power and democracy, an incident that left more than 100 law enforcement officers injured and resulted in more than $2.8 million in damage losses.
Irizarry saw rioters attacking officers and instead of helping them, he armed himself with a section of a broken bicycle rack, authorities said.
He also directed and encouraged others toward the Capitol where he entered through a shattered window within minutes of a frantic order being delivered to representatives and senators and their staff to run for safety.
He entered a non-public committee room, making himself comfortable in a chair, and taking pictures and video of himself and his friends.
After leaving the building, he still stayed on the Capitol grounds, leaving only when law enforcement regained control hours after the start.
Afterward, he eventually deleted images from his phone and discussed joining the Russian military with his friend Bishai if they couldn’t remain in the U.S. military. His electronic footprint further shows he joined a chat group titled “Civil War.”
That Irizarry was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and a Citadel cadet made his actions more egregious, prosecutors contended. They ask for a 45-day jail sentence followed by probation.
Defense attorney Eugene Ohm stressed Irizarry’s youth. On Jan. 6, 2021, he was just two months past his 19th birthday. He wasn’t an election denier, Ohm said.
Irizarry is a bright young man whose goal in life continues to be to serve others and his country, Ohm said, and “an extraordinarily well-behaved” young man who excelled in school and spent his free time volunteering.
Irizarry is ashamed to know that he will be associated with the rioters, with those who hurt law enforcement officers, Ohm said.
“Elias accepted responsibility for his actions and has shown singular and exceptional remorse,” Ohm wrote in a sentencing memorandum.
Irizarry has lost his chance to graduate from The Citadel and become an officer in the Air Force, but he hasn’t given up on service. He has completed training to become a firefighter for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Based on Elias’ personal history and characteristics, it is clear that his conduct on January 6, 2021, was an isolated event, was completely out of character and will never happen again,” Ohm wrote in requesting a sentence of probation with no time in jail.
In December, nearly two months after Irizarry pleaded guilty to the federal misdemeanor charge, he was suspended from the Citadel for conduct unbecoming a cadet. He can reapply for the summer and fall semesters.