Michael Stepakoff, also known as "Rabbi Mike," is one of over 700 people charged in connection to the January 6 riot at the Capitol building. His attorneys have requested that he receive a $50 fine as a sentence for Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building, for which he was charged with a misdemeanor. This sentence would be in keeping with those received by protestors inside the Capitol during the hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The prosecution has asked prison time, a substantially larger fine, and community service. The argument was laid out in a court filing brought forth this week by his lawyer, Marina Medvin.
"The appropriate sentence for Michael Stepakoff, a 56-year-old Messianic Rabbi with a clean record, a loyal husband and loving father to four children, is a fine in the amount of $50 for his first offense Class B misdemeanor conviction for Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in a Capitol Building under 40 U.S.C. §5104(e)(2)(G). Mr. Stepakoff's relevant conduct is nonviolent," the court filing states.
The filing states that Stepakoff came to Washington DC "for the conservative protest events scheduled for January 5th and 6th."
On January 6, he traveled towards the Capitol after hearing part of Trump's speech in the morning, expecting to see a large protest at the building.
Stepakoff reportedly "took selfies in front of the Capitol and then followed the crowd of Trump supporters through open doors of the Capitol building."
He was, according to the court filings, inside the building for approximately five minutes, spending most of that time glancing at his phone.
"Mr. Stepakoff spent five minutes in the hallway of Capitol, half of which was standing against a corner wall, looking down at his cell phone, distracted by his mobile device. When he wasn't on his phone, he walked around the hallway slowly, aimlessly, staying within close range of the entry doors — appearing aloof, incognizant, and out of place," the filing states, noting that he walked in an shook hands with a police officer at one point.
Not long after leaving the building, Stepakoff reportedly headed back to his hotel room.
"After arriving back at the hotel, Mr. Stepakoff began hearing reports of violence at the Trump rally that he had just left. Mr. Stepakoff immediately brushed the stories off as a combination of media embellishment and infiltration by Antifa or other malicious actors who were trying to make Trump supporters look bad," the filing states.
The filing notes that police were not asking those inside the building to leave, and that "Like many, Mr. Stepakoff was unaware that protesting inside the Capitol building was a criminal act."
Stepakoff was arrested on January 29, 2021, and the court filing states that he "remained in perfect compliance with his pretrial release conditions."
"He made it very clear that he would not have gone inside had he known it was unlawful to enter the Capitol building. Mr. Stepakoff explained to the government that he always thought of the Capitol as Ground Zero for political protest, having seen many prior protests at the Capitol," the court filing states.
Medvin states in the filing that federal prosecutors have relied on "inaccurate" facts in his case.
"The United States Probation Office has submitted a Presentence Report and a Sentence recommendation of 12 months probation, 60 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine. To justify this sentence, a Justification was drafted summarizing the facts of this case. The facts as recited are inaccurate," the filing states.
"The government has emphasized certain facts that they believe constitute a more robust criminal case against the defendant. These facts are outlined in the Statement of Facts filed with the signed plea deal. While the defense does not dispute the existence of these facts, the defense disagrees with the materiality. It is thus essential to review these facts in context," it continues.
Some of these facts outlined by the court filing include the inclusion of pointing out that Stepakoff entered through a door marked Exit, though it was only marked as such from the inside, the fact that the government has noted a sculpture on the floor in the hallway where Stepakoff entered, though it has no relevance in the case, and the usage of the term "our house" in reference to the Capitol building, a term used by many political protests from both political parties.
"The government is asking for this court to penalize the defendant based on their summation of the entirety of the evidence collected for the January 6 mass prosecution. What the government is asking this court to do is to punish the defendant for conduct that he did not know about, for events he did not partake in, for destruction and violence he did not witness, for severity he did not experience, and for an effect he did not cause nor could foresee," the court filing states.
"It is unethical and inequitable to hold Mr. Stepakoff responsible for the results of a politically heated rally that got out of hand. Mr. Stepakoff should be judged on his participation and what he knew at the time," it continued.
In defense of a sentence that constitutes of a $50 fine instead of 12 months probation, 60 hours of community service, and a $1,000 fine, Medvin drew parallels to protestors arrested in connection to Brett Kavanaugh protests.
One such protestor was Sandra Steingraber, who was arrested in the Gallery by Capitol Police for disrupting the Senate proceedings. In this case, she was handed a $50 fine as a sentence. Medvin noted that this was not her first arrest for such conduct. "And, Ms. Steingraber was not an anomalous case — the hundreds of other Kavanaugh protesters arrested in September and October received identical charges and dispositions."
"Comparatively, Mr. Stepakoff's conduct is significantly less culpable. Yet, Ms. Steingraber walked away with a $50 fine and a dismissal under local code (and no legal fees) while Mr. Stepakoff was federally prosecuted for one year, not offered any kind of dismissal disposition, placed on supervised pretrial release for one year during the prosecution, and is awaiting the potential of a sizable penalty. How? And, why?" The court filing states.
"The most significant difference between the two — politics. Mr. Stepakoff entered amid a crowd of Trump supporters while Ms. Steingraber was with a progressive women's group," it continued.
The filing states that the recommendation against Stepakoff "is absolutely excessive and outlandish, especially when compared to all Capitol-related incidents, not just January 6." Medvin noted that Stepakoff has already paid the $500 restitution imposed on him.