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Montco man who beat an officer with a Trump flag during the Jan. 6 riot sentenced to nearly four years

Howard Richardson, 72, of King of Prussia, pleaded for mercy Friday from a federal judge in Washington. "I'm a good citizen," he said.

Howard Richardson at the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in Washington, D.C.
Howard Richardson at the Jan. 6, 2021, riot in Washington, D.C.Read moreDepartment of Justice / MCT

A Montgomery County man who beat a Washington, D.C., police officer with a Trump flag during the U.S. Capitol riot was sentenced to nearly four years in federal prison Friday — one of the harshest punishments imposed so far in connection with the Jan. 6 attack.

Howard Richardson, 72, of King of Prussia, apologized to the court during a sentencing hearing in Washington saying “there’s no excuse” for his behavior that day. Still, he stressed that the officer involved hadn’t been seriously hurt and pleaded with the court for mercy.

“I’m a good citizen,” he told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly during a hearing in Washington. “I’ve been a good neighbor. … I went down [to Washington] as a patriotic citizen to celebrate. I allowed myself to be dragged into this mob mentality.”

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Richardson noted he is a Vietnam veteran and that his son has been a police officer for nearly two decades. But Kollar-Kotelly said that, if anything, Richardson’s military service and his family ties to police should have made him even more keenly aware that his actions that day were indefensible.

“Violence is an unacceptable way of resolving political differences,” she said. “Your presence and actions in joining other insurrectionists was an inexcusable attack on our democracy. … You should appreciate what an extraordinary country you live in.”

The 46-month prison term Kollar-Kotelly imposed Friday is the longest yet for any of the 21 Pennsylvania defendants who have been sentenced so far for playing a role in the Capitol riot, which caused millions of dollars in damage, injured scores of officers, and threatened the peaceful transition of power.

More than 70 people from the state have been charged to date, most with misdemeanors for illegally entering the Capitol building. Trials for those facing more serious charges — such as assaulting police officers or planning the attack that day — remain pending.

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Unlike many of those charged, Richardson never entered the building. But prosecutors said Friday that his attack on a Washington, D.C., police officer outside set his case apart and made him deserving of a lengthy prison term.

Body-camera footage from several officers showed Richardson — sporting a “Brigantine Beach” windbreaker and a red baseball cap — at the front of a mob confronting police barricades on the Capitol’s west plaza.

He approached a police officer in riot gear, yelled, “Here it comes!” and bludgeoned him three times with the metal flagpole. He only stopped swinging after the pole broke in two.

Investigators later found a day planner in Richardson’s home with detailed handwritten notes of his activities during the insurrection.

“Gates were breached,” he wrote in an entry marked 1 p.m. And between 1:30 and 1:45 — when his assault on the officer took place — he noted he was “moving up to steps.”

He reported being pepper-sprayed in a 2 p.m. entry — and noted “no trash cans” and “no Port-A-Potties.”

Though Richardson pleaded guilty to charges of assaulting an officer earlier this year, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily W. Allen said he has continued to lie about his conduct and to minimize his actions.

He first told FBI agents in October that he’d acted in self-defense after the officer struck him with a baton. He later said he lost his temper after the officers mistakenly accused him of being part of a group that used a metal billboard to break through police lines.

And he insisted that he hadn’t bludgeoned the officer with a Trump flag but rather one bearing the pro-police slogan “Back the Blue.”

All of those stories, Allen noted, were later proven false by the video evidence.

“Mr. Richardson was front and center,” she said. “There is no way looking at that video to see it as him protecting himself.”

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What’s more, she added, while Richardson had no prior criminal record, his behavior on Jan. 6, 2021, was part of a disturbing escalation of violence in his behavior in recent years.

In 2018, Philadelphia police were called to an incident in which Richardson was accused of pulling a gun on two people at a gas station while he confronted them about the way they’d parked their car near the pumps. He wasn’t arrested at the time, but his license to carry was revoked.

Two years later, officers still found him carrying a gun during a traffic stop in Montgomery County. He was out on bail for that crime when he participated in the Jan. 6 attack.

Even after Richardson was charged with beating an officer during the riot, he was arrested again in Upper Merion. This time, police say, he “tackled” a passing motorcyclist off his bike during a dispute over the noise it was making outside of Richardson’s house.

Richardson’s attorney, Thomas C. Egan III, who also represents him in those cases, maintained that the attack on the motorcyclist was not what prosecutors had made it out to be and that in that situation, too, his client was acting in self-defense.

He painted Richardson as a valued member of his community who frequently volunteers as a poll watcher and judge of elections and who had built a successful pest-control business in Montgomery County.

“He didn’t go there with the intention of hurting anybody,” Egan said. “He was an elderly man who went there as a President Trump supporter who believed right or wrong that the election had been taken from him.”

Kollar-Kotelly wasn’t buying it. She again said Richardson’s previous work in elections should have given him a better understanding than most people of how democracy works.

“He went from helping his fellow citizens exercise one of the fundamental rights of democracy to attacking the ideals of democracy by his criminal actions on Jan. 6,” she said.

In addition to his prison term, Richardson was ordered to serve three years under court supervision after his release and to pay $2,000 in restitution.