WASHINGTON, D.C. (WGHP) — The federal trial of several Oath Keepers, including an ex-High Point police officer, has come to an end.
Laura Steele was sentenced to one year in prison, six months home of incarceration and three years of supervised release after a lengthy trial over her involvement in the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol, a riot that broke out in an effort to overturn the 2020 election in favor of former president Donald Trump.
In March, Steele was found guilty by a jury in U.S. District Court in Washington along with three of her codefendants in a trial of six members of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia group, who entered the Capitol in a violent attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Steele was guilty of six counts listed in an eighth superseding indictment for her role in the riot.
Sandra Parker, Connie Meggs and William Isaacs also were found guilty on all charges. Two others had also been on trial: Bennie Parker (Sandra Parker’s husband) was acquitted of obstruction as well as one conspiracy charge, and Michael Greene was acquitted of two conspiracy charges, The Associated Press reported.
Steele is the only defendant in an eighth charge, which describes how she and her brother, Graydon Young, used a backyard burn pit to destroy evidence the day after the attack.
Young was indicted separately He was the first to plead guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of Congress. His plea, as well as an agreement to testify against Oath Keeper founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes, spared him the potential of up to 30 years in prison. Rhodes was sentenced to 18 years.
Prosecutors recommended up to 10 years in prison for Steele, stating that she and her co-defendants “committed offenses that were calculated to influence or affect the conduct of the government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct. All five defendants were active participants in the Oath Keepers’ conspiracy to prevent, hinder, or delay the certification proceeding, and to use force, intimidation, or threats to prevent members of Congress from discharging their duties during that proceeding.”
Requests of Leniency
In a court filing after her conviction, Steele’s attorney, Peter Cooper, said it was her brother and Donald Trump who made her do it, that she “feels regret” and that she had no “nefarious” intent.
Her defense describes in the filing how Trump’s lies about a stolen election and Young’s suggestion that she join the Oath Keepers lured her to fall in line at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, stating that she does not deserve to go to prison and that she had just been there because she’d been asked to provide security for the rally.
Because of that, Cooper asked that the court reduce Steele’s sentence to a 6-month period of home detention on each count, followed by a period of supervision that includes community service. She previously had filed a motion for a new trial.
The prosecution responded to this request for leniency in a memo authored by U.S. Attorney Matthew M. Graves, stating that they “accurately applied specific offense characteristics for the relevant conduct of these defendants and their co-conspirators.”
“As this Court observed in sentencing the leader of this conspiracy, Stewart Rhodes, ‘Collective criminal agreement — partnership in crime — presents a greater potential threat to the public than individual dealings. Concerted action both increases the likelihood that the criminal object will be successfully attained and decreases the probability that the individuals involved will depart from their path of criminality,’” Graves wrote.
“[T]hese defendants posed a far greater threat than individual defendants on January 6. Their collective action made them more effective. It also inspired others: the image of twelve helmet-and-camouflage-clad Oath Keepers marching hands-on-shoulder up the steps of the Capitol fired up the crowd and encouraged other rioters to press forward in their attack.”
Several friends and family members wrote letters to the court in support of Steele’s character, most of them portraying her as a loving wife and mother who had a positive impact on their lives, with people like her dentist portraying the charges as “out of character” for what they know of her.
Retired High Point City Manager Strib Boynton discusses meeting Steele over 25 years ago while Steele was a High Point police officer. He characterizes her as a wise and caring mother to her two sons, who are now High Point police officers.
“Laura was instrumental in their growth and development,” he wrote. “After leaving the High Point Police Department, she continued her desire to serve others through private security work at Novant Health in Kernersville.”
Steele was terminated from the High Point Police Department in 2004, with public records showing that conduct toward superiors, absence from duty and violation of communications policy were the reasons for her firing.
Her husband, Ken Steele, heaps more blame on Young, stating his belief that if Steele had known the true extent of his involvement with the Oath Keepers, she would not have filled out the membership form and accompanied him to Washington, DC. He retired from his role as assistant police chief of the High Point Police Department on January 1, 2021.
“She had wanted to go and even asked me to go with her. I declined, I had just retired and had been through probably one of the worst years for a police officer in America in 2020. BLM rallies where the protestors burned down businesses, broke into stores and looted, destroyed government buildings and any time arrests were made the protests got worse to include huge crowds gathering at the Police Department and protesting. I was an Assistant Chief at the time so I was involved in all of these things in some form or fashion,” Ken Steele wrote in his letter.
There was one protest in High Point that reported property damage in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, involving around 40-50 people.
Her daughter-in-law describes her as “the most generous person” she knows and an “attentive and active” grandmother to her child. “She is a beloved friend wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother that has positively impacted the lives of many people,” the letter concludes.
Her son states that he cannot be in person in court due to a subpoena in a superior court case and expresses support for his mother, characterizing her as “selfless” and describing how her support and intervention helped him stay on track in school despite his “wild” personality and struggles with ADHD.
“All of the family are strong believers in following the law and supporting the constitution,” Steele’s mother wrote about how deeply ingrained into law enforcement the Steele family is.
“It is unfortunate she has been caught up in this unfortunate incident. Her brother, Graydon, has pleaded guilty in a plea deal that he was aware of talk of taking some kind of action at the capital; however, he only told Laura that the Oath Keepers were going to provide security for VIPs at the rally and she would need to fill out a form for temporary membership. When they returned home on January 6 later that evening before we sat down to dinner, he apologized to everyone for involving the family in what happened that day. We did not know why he was so overly upset until the day he took the plea deal.”Laura Steele’s Mother
Neighbors call Steele a “special lady” and discuss how she “keeps a nice home,” with a pair of neighbors directly asking the judge to “please be lenient” in Steele’s sentencing.
A friend from the High Point Police Department discusses Steele’s positive impact on her life and how she helped her in a time when she was dealing with a troubled marriage.
“Laura is not a violent or aggressive person,” another “life-long” friend describes.
Another friend from Steele’s time in the police academy echoes earlier sentiments that the blame should fall on her brother, saying he believed Steele was “duped” out of familial loyalty.
“She let me know she had been asked, because of her skills she acquired while working in law enforcement and security, to help escort people whose well-being may be at risk from people who did not believe everyone has the right to speak. It really was that simple,” a friend wrote.