More than a year after helping storm the Capitol, a Haywood County man has pleaded guilty to his role in trying to stop Congress' certification of the 2020 election.
Lewis Easton Cantwell, of Haywood County, admitted in a plea deal filed March 24 in U.S. District Court in Washington to thwarting police attempts to hold off rioters from the legislative building on Jan. 6, 2021. He pleaded guilty to one felony charge of obstructing, impeding, or interfering with law enforcement during the commission of civil disorder.
The insurrection against the certification of Joe Biden's presidential victory left five people dead and many others injured. The Capitol required $1.4 million in repairs, according to prosecutors most recent filings in the case.
Cantwell had been indicted by a grand jury on Feb. 5, 2021, on six counts: aiding and abetting civil disorder; obstructing an official proceeding; entering and remaining in a restricted government area; disruptive and disorderly conduct in a restricted government area; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a capitol building; and parading, demonstrating or picketing in the Capitol.
Now his sentencing is set for Sept. 22 before U.S. District Court Judge Emmet G. Sullivan. A 36-year-old military veteran and former co-owner of the now closed Jackson County Sip’ Sum tea house, Cantwell is facing a recommended sentence of zero to six months in prison and $2,000 in restitution payments, according to the plea deal. The filing noted he had "zero criminal history points." The judge is not bound by those recommendations.
Cantwell was at one point represented by high-profile criminal defense attorney Eduardo Balarezo whose clients included former Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. His current attorney, Nicolai Cocis of Murrieta, California, did not return April 1 messages seeking comment.
The punishment is less than many others involved in events surrounding the insurrection. Fellow WNC resident Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. was sentenced to 28 months after arriving in Washington with guns and large amounts of ammunition and threatening to shoot House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in the head.
Other WNC residents with links to the insurrection include 11th District Rep. Madison Cawthorn, who sought to fire up a crowd at the Stop the Steal rally prior to the storming, and Mark Meadows, former 11th District Congressman and chief of staff for Donald Trump. Meadows was involved with some of the highest-level discussions about overturning the election and whom Congress voted to hold in contempt for failing to cooperate with its Jan. 6 investigation.
Cantwell made it to the front of one of the Capitol entrances, according to a statement of offense he signed as part of the plea deal. He used his cell phone to make videos of Capitol Police battling those forcing their way into the building, the statement said.
"When watching rioters battle with law enforcement officers near an entrance, Cantwell yelled for the rioters to 'get the door open.' At another point, Cantwell yelled that they needed 'fresh patriots to the front.'"
Counter to police efforts, Cantwell admitted he encouraged rioters to force open the door and for more of them to come and fight officers.
In the 14 months since Jan. 6, more than 775 people have been arrested in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the Capitol storming in what the U.S. Justice Department says is an ongoing investigation. Among those arrested are 245 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at firstname.lastname@example.org, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Haywood County man guilty of January 6 insurrection role