KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Kansas man who pleaded guilty to assaulting, resisting or impeding a federal officer during the Capitol riot was sentenced Wednesday to 20 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
Michael Eckerman of Wichita also is required to pay $2,000 restitution for the nearly $2.9 million in losses the government said were suffered as a result of the riot.
The sentence was handed down by Judge Christopher R. Cooper in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the toughest one imposed among the five Kansans sentenced to date in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol breach.
Eckerman, 39, was charged in 2021 with three felonies — civil disorder; assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers; and obstruction of an official proceeding — and five misdemeanors. He pleaded guilty to the assault charge in November, and the government agreed to drop the other charges.
He faced a maximum eight years’ imprisonment, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release. The government requested a sentence of 24 months incarceration along with three years of supervised release and $2,000 in restitution.
In a letter to the judge filed with Eckerman’s sentencing memorandum last week, Eckerman’s wife, Sarah, pleaded with Cooper to consider giving her husband probation. She said he had a stellar work ethic, “lives for his family” and “is very involved with our children and their school activities and sports.”
“I cannot fathom my children’s father away from them,” she wrote. “I know he made a poor choice and our family has suffered immensely from it. … I know he feels deep remorse for the choice he made.”
The government laid out its case against Eckerman in its sentencing document, saying that in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, he tried to recruit friends and family members to join him at the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., telling them that something “epic” and “historic” was going to happen.
Eckerman traveled from Wichita to Washington on Jan. 5, 2021, with his cousin, the document said. At their hotel, they met three people from New Hampshire who, along with another “new friend” they met from Missouri, attended the rally together the next day. Afterward, they all marched to the Capitol.
Around 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, the document said, Eckerman and two of the others saw rioters assaulting officers on the West Plaza of the Capitol. As they filmed the activity, Eckerman — wearing a tactical vest and neon gloves — moved closer, encouraging the rioters and yelling that the officers were “traitors to the country,” according to the filing.
“Eckerman also witnessed a rioter spray an orange chemical irritant, likely bear spray, directly at MPD Officer A.A … the spray hit Officer A.A. directly in the eyes, temporarily blinding him and requiring him to retreat from the scene.”
Eckerman saw rioters use metal bike rack barricades as ladders to scale Capitol walls and witnessed police deploy canisters of chemical irritants in an attempt to disperse the crowd, the document said. He later told a friend that “they threw bombs bro it was crazy that tear gas terrible.” He texted another: “that gas hurt, I won’t lie.” Still, the government said, he did not leave the grounds.
At 2:24 p.m., Eckerman and two of his companions ignored the blaring security alarms as they walked past broken windows that other rioters were climbing through, the sentencing document said. Then the three entered the Capitol through the Senate Wing doors, which also had a broken window.
The government said Eckerman was involved in three breaches of police lines during the 20 minutes he was inside the Capitol, including just outside the House chamber as members of Congress were sheltering inside. He forcibly facilitated one breach himself, the document said, by pushing his way to the front of a standoff between protesters and a small group of Capitol Police officers who were guarding a stairway.
“Shortly after rioters warned the officers that they were about to breach the line, Eckerman pushed USCP officer K.Y. and knocked him off balance, causing him to fall and resulting in a gap in the police line,” the sentencing document said. After the officer was knocked to the ground, another rioter then sprayed him in the face with a fire extinguisher.
“Rioters, including Eckerman and his two companions, then surged through that gap and climbed the now accessible stairs,” the document said, “allowing the mob to penetrate the second floor of the Capitol and further complicate police efforts to protect the building and its occupants.”
Eckerman also entered a sensitive area of the Capitol, the document said, where he took celebratory photos — including a selfie in front of a portrait of George Washington.
After leaving the building, the three lingered outside and continued to take photos and videos, despite hearing rioters shout that someone had been shot, the government’s filing said.
“In one of those videos, Eckerman bragged about his assault on police, stating, “I went all the way in, knocked over six cops … and they shot that girl,” the document said.
Eckerman returned to Kansas the next day, it said, and the group exchanged text messages expressing elation at what they did at the Capitol.
“For example, on January 8, Eckerman texted the group: ‘Awesome time it was history’; ‘This is going down they all must pay’; and ‘Stay strong you are all heroes to me,’” the sentencing document said. The group shared photos and videos of confrontations with police, it said, including Eckerman’s involvement in the conflict between rioters and 18 officers prior to breaching the Capitol.
The group also shared conspiracy theories suggesting that the Capitol riot “was in fact a covert operation orchestrated by former President Trump and his supporters to trap and reveal traitor politicians, who would be arrested and executed imminently,” according to the document.
“Similarly, the group advised each other to be prepared for a military coup and/or civil war to reinstate President (Donald) Trump.”
In one chat, the document said, “Eckerman embraced the idea of a civil war between Trump supporters and opponents, stating, ‘Yeah they are moving fast let’s hope the military is on our side and Trump pulls the card,’ and ‘It’s crazy but what a time to be alive.’”
The government said Eckerman has no criminal history apart from the Capitol riot case. It said, however, that his aggressive behavior in support of his political views wasn’t limited to what happened on Jan. 6. Ten days before the riot, the document said, he got in a confrontation over a mask mandate.
“In a text thread with friends, his wife wrote, ‘me and Michael almost got arrested tonight,’ to which Eckerman responded, ‘these mask Nazi can suck a duck,’” the filing said. It said that “Eckerman later clarified that ‘duck’ was a typo and he meant the male anatomy.”
Eckerman also used intimidation tactics during frequent protests at U.S. District Court in Wichita while armed with an AR-style semi-automatic rifle, the document said. And in one text message thread discussing whether to protest and “open carry” at the state Capitol, Eckerman shared an image in which he was carrying an AR-style rifle, saying that he and his wife were “always ready.”
“Indeed, text messages recovered from Eckerman’s cell phone suggest he is an expert of sorts in firearms and ammunition, as friends and co-workers frequently sought his opinion on whether to acquire a particular gun or set of ammunition,” the document said. “His phone also yielded numerous photographs of AR-style semiautomatic rifles and a handgun assembled with scopes, red-dot sights, and extended magazine clips.”
A search warrant conducted on Eckerman’s residence in connection with the Capitol riot case “similarly revealed two AR-style semi-automatic rifles, a shotgun, several loaded extended AR magazines, and several boxes of ammunition,” the government’s filing said.
In his sentencing memorandum, Eckerman asked for leniency, saying he was not a flight risk or a danger to the community.
“Moreover, he is not in need of supervision as he is a very mature and responsible individual who does not have any drug or alcohol problems or mental illness issues,” wrote his attorney, Richard Stern.
Eckerman is a terminal manager at Yellow Freight in Wichita, Stern wrote, overseeing multiple facilities across the state and supervising 50 people. He said sentencing Eckerman to jail time would severely impact his family.
“Mr. Eckerman is the main financial support for the family of five as he has a wife and three children,” Stern said. “He is currently employed and his income is very much needed by the family to maintain the family home as well as the needs of the children.”
The document included letters from several family members, friends and co-workers. All painted a much different picture of Eckerman than that of the government.
James L. Welch, retired Yellow CEO, said Eckerman was “a very devoted family man” who excelled at his job and was level-headed, calm and honest when dealing with employees.
His uncle Donny Eckerman described him as “a dedicated father and husband who provides for his family,” is involved in all his children’s activities and is “the glue that keeps our family together.”
“Michael understands he made a mistake, Michael is very compassionate about his beliefs and wants only the best for his wife and children’s future,” he wrote. “However, he got caught up in the moment and made a poor decision and deeply regrets it.”
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