An earlier version of this article stated that Jeffrey Alexander Smith had entered a not-guilty plea on Thursday, information that was supplied to NBC 7 by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Southern District of California. Also, attorney Marc Carlos said Smith could face six months in prison, not seven years. Finally, pretrial services, not child services, told the court there were guns in Smith's Coronado residence. That information has been edited to reflect necessary corrections. -- Ed.
A San Diego County man who allegedly told a friend he "drove 38 hours" to Washington, D.C., ahead of the U.S. Capitol riot was in court on Thursday, accused of involvement in the violent, deadly Jan. 6 riot.
San Diego FBI officials said Coronado resident Jeffrey Alexander Smith was arrested Wednesday morning “for his alleged role in the riot and breach of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021.”
Smith faces misdemeanor charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol Grounds and knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority.
Smith remained silent during his entire initial appearance on Thursday in the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building downtown. The media was kept in a side room to view a video feed of Courtroom 4D, where U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Skomal presided. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Miller and Smith's defense lawyers -- Jonathan Rice and Geoffrey Thorne were present in court, while Smith, wearing a khaki shirt with a white T-shirt beneath it, appeared in real time via a video feed.
Prosecutors began the hearing by asking that Smith be held on $25,000 bail. They then discussed Smith's background, telling the judge Smith had served in the Army from 2010-15 and was honorably discharged. Defense attorneys later revealed that Smith had served in Iraq during his military service.
The assistant district attorney then went on to say the 33-year-old Smith is currently unemployed and lives with his parents in Coronado, and has two young children with his wife, from whom he is estranged.
The defense made no objection to the amount of bail requestd,
The prosecutor then informed the court that Smith's parents had paid for his trip to Washington D.C., the first week of January and alleged that before entering the Capitol, Smith had removed three benches Capitol Police used as barricades, then forced open doors to the Capitol to let rioters inside the building, where he recorded 30 minutes and photos of himself.
Smith, prosecutors alleged, admitted to law enforcement that he had committed the acts.
Smith is due back in court in San Diego for an identification and removal hearing on Feb. 11 and also has a hearing in Washington on Feb. 4, at which he will appear remotely. He will have to travel to Washington, D.C., for additional hearings and, possibly, a trial.
The defendant's attorneys said in court that prosecutors had been told that Smith's parents would pay for his travel to Washington to appear at trial. The defense also made a request for their client to be able to travel to Colorado, informing the court that Smith's parents purchased a residence in Colorado Springs -- where his estranged wife and children live -- and Smith was going to manage the property.
After the discussion, the judge said he would permit Smith to travel to Colorado once he makes bond.
Smith's defense team then asked for him to be released later on Thursday, which the judge said would be permitted if Smith had filled out the necessary paperwork in time.
Soon after that ruling, a representative from pretrial services requested that Smith be released to home detention, but the judge refused, citing the fact that the charges Smith faced were only misdemeanors.
The pretrial services representative then went on to argue that there were firearms present at the Coronado home Smith would be living in, which would be a violation of his bail and a restraining order. Prosecutors said Smith recently violated the restraining order, and under the terms of his divorce proceedings with his wife, he cannot currently own a firearm. The judge, however, said Child Services would have to prove Smith has access to the weapons that are allegedly in the home.
After court, defense attorney Jonathan Rice said that Smith's family -- his mother and sister attended Thursday's proceedings -- wished he had never gone to Washington but that they supported him now.
Rice, who said he would be shocked if his client served any jail time, also said that Smith entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 because he was "carried away in the moment."
San Diego defense attorney Marc Carlos, who has 30 years of experience in federal court, told NBC 7 that Smith faces a possible sentence of up to six months in prison. Carlos also said that if Smith was found guilty, he would have to show remorse for his actions for any sort of mitigation during sentencing, a concept few of the accused rioters have seemed receptive to so far in other court proceedings.
The FBI said Smith spent about 30 minutes inside the Capitol building alongside other rioters on that chaotic day.
According to the indictment against Smith obtained by NBC 7, the FBI was first tipped off on Smith’s alleged involvement at the Capitol riot on Jan. 7.
That day, “Witness-1” – a person who told investigators they had known Smith for a long time – said they had seen a photo of Smith inside the U.S. Capitol building posted on social media. Witness-1 told the FBI the photo had been posted on an Instagram account.
“The photo depicts Smith wearing a black jacket and Trump hat, with a red cell phone in his right hand, which is raised in the air,” the indictment said.
In the photo, “Trump 2020” flags can be seen waving in the background; rioters are seen standing behind Smith.
On Jan. 10, the FBI interviewed Witness-1, who told the FBI that on Jan. 9, Smith had shown Witness-1 “a video of himself walking into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.”
“Smith had since removed his Instagram account and Witness-1 could not find any other pictures Smith posted online," the document stated. "Witness-1 provided a phone number for Smith."
Photos: Pro-Trump Supporters Breach the Capitol Building
On Jan. 8, the FBI received another tip about Smith having been part of the riot.
This time, the indictment said “Witness-2” was a person who had grown up with Smith in Coronado.
Witness-2 had exchanged messages with Smith via Instagram after the Jan. 6 riot.
“Witness-2 provided screen shots of the messages which included SMITH writing, ‘I'm a Patriot," "I stormed the capital’ (sic),’ ” the indictment states.
In Smith’s message to Witness-2, the FBI said Smith stated that his purpose for rioting at the Capitol was to “send a message that Americans [aren't] going to take a fraudulent election."
The indictment also said Smith wrote this to Witness-2: "There is no way in hell I was going to drive 38 hours from San Diego and not walk right through the front of the capital (sic) building."
Witness-2 also told the FBI that Smith had deleted his Instagram account after the riot.
On Jan. 12, an FBI special agent called Smith. On the phone, Smith allegedly told the agent he was driving back to his parents’ home in San Diego.
“Smith told the agent that he drove 38 hours to Washingont, D.C., to attend the speech by President Trump on Jan. 6, 2021,” the indictment states. “Smith said that his girlfriend traveled by air and met him in Washington, D.C. Smith told his girlfriend to remain at the hotel instead of getting into all the chaos at the U.S. Capitol.”
The FBI said Smith told the special agent that when he approached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, “it was a chaotic scene.”
The indictment said Smith told the FBI he heard people on loudspeakers, saw tear gas and heard what he thought were flash bangs going off.
But that didn’t stop Smith from breaching the building along with other rioters, according to the indictment.
“Smith admitted he walked into the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and remained in the Capitol for about 30 minutes,” the document states. “Smith admitted to deleting his Instagram account after he began receiving death threats related to his involvement in the Capitol events.”
San Diego Connections to the US Capitol Riot
FBI officials said this is the first arrest in San Diego County related to the ongoing investigation of the Capitol riot. Many others in Southern California have been arrested in connection with the riot.
Another San Diegan was at the riot was Ashli Babbitt, 35. The Ocean Beach resident was in Washington, D.C., to protest the election defeat of Donald Trump when she stormed the Capitol alongside other violent Trump supporters.
Babbitt was fatally shot by a U.S. Capitol police officer during the riot.
Suzanne Turner, Special Agent in Charge of FBI's San Diego Field Office, said local investigators would continue to look for anyone linked to the Capitol case. Anyone with tips can call 800-CALL-FBI or visit the FBI’s website.
The FBI said the investigation on the U.S. Capitol riot is ongoing.
NBC 7 obtained the indictment against Smith. You can read the full document below: