Trial begins in effort to remove Couy Griffin from office - Albuquerque Journal

Trial begins in effort to remove Couy Griffin from office

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Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin speaks in court on Monday. Griffin is representing himself in a bench trial that could determine whether he will be allowed to serve the remainder of his term in office. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE — Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin admitted a couple of times Monday that he wasn’t ready for trial.

“I’m not as prepared as I should be,” Griffin, the defendant in a civil lawsuit seeking to remove him from his elected position, said during his opening statement. “I had too much confidence in the law being followed.”

Griffin is representing himself against a team of lawyers in a bench trial that could determine whether he will be allowed to serve out the remaining months of his term in office.

A lawsuit contends Griffin violated the 14th Amendment, which prohibits officeholders sworn to uphold the Constitution from engaging in an “insurrection” against the U.S. government. The “disqualification clause” is part of a Civil War-era constitutional amendment intended to bar former Confederates from holding state or federal offices.

Just before his trial started Monday in the 1st Judicial District courthouse in Santa Fe, Judge Francis Mathew ruled against Griffin on a motion to dismiss the case.

The judge also said Griffin must have had assistance in crafting the court filing and the judge demanded to know who helped Griffin, the founder of Cowboys for Trump. Mathew said he would refer the matter for a possible investigation for practicing law without a license.

Griffin said he had help from a friend in Roswell named “Hiram,” adding that he didn’t know the man’s last name.

Griffin contended his motion was “full of the law.” He railed against the judge’s decision not to dismiss the case, calling it “disrespectful.”

“Thank God for the opportunity to appeal,” he said during his opening.

The southern New Mexico county commissioner was convicted earlier this year of a misdemeanor in federal court for entering a restricted area during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, which Griffin attended. His participation in the attack is the basis the plaintiffs, Marco White and Leslie Lakind, both Santa Fe County residents, along with Mark Mitchell of Los Alamos County, are using to try to oust Griffin from public office.

Griffin said that although his commission term ends at the end of the year, he is considering a run for sheriff.

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Couy Griffin walks through the 1st Judicial District courthouse in Santa Fe Monday. Dr. Leslie Lakind, center, in green, is one of the plaintiffs in a case seeking to remove him from office. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Video evidence

Griffin, on the witness stand, said he was at the Capitol as a peaceful protester and was seeking merely to pray with other Trump supporters.

Nathaniel Gowdy, a freelance photographer who was at the Jan. 6 riots, testified on the witness stand that he took more than 100 photos of Griffin that day.

“He placed himself front and center and ended up being in a lot of my (pictures),” Gowdy said.

Gowdy said he saw Griffin repeatedly try to get the mob’s attention and lead people in a Pro-Trump prayer. He said Griffin was encouraging the group, fist bumping and pretending to be a musical conductor over the chants of the protesters.

Griffin was on the witness stand for about four hours on the first day of trial. Joe Goldberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, questioned Griffin.

Goldberg asked Griffin questions about his actions on Jan. 6 and in the days leading up to it. Griffin repeatedly said he had no intention of breaking the law or participating in any violence.

Goldberg played videos of Griffin making speeches in the days before the riot, telling his supporters to prepare for a war and refuse to back down. There were also video clips that Griffin made of himself Jan. 7, in which he said the day before had been a “great day for America.” He said he planned to return to the Capitol to hold a Second Amendment rally and threatened that “there will be blood running out of the building.”

“I didn’t know of the loss of life. I didn’t know of the violence I later saw on TV,” Griffin said on the stand. “Looking back now that I’ve seen the violence, … no, I can’t say it was a great day.”

Goldberg also played video in court showing Griffin scaling two small walls to get inside Capitol grounds. He is seen walking by people who were screaming “storm the Capitol.”

Griffin, on the stand, accused Goldberg of editing the photos to take Griffin’s words out of context. The judge several times had to interrupt the questioning and order Griffin to answer the questions.

Griffin suggested some members of the mob that descended on the Capitol were members of “antifa” who had dressed up as Trump supporters. And he lamented that he was under fire for attending the Jan. 6 riot and there wasn’t a more thorough investigation of property that Jeffrey Epstein owned in New Mexico.

At one point, Griffin appeared to grow frustrated while cross examining Gowdy and called the photographer “arrogant.”

“I’m afraid that you’re so blinded by your political bias that you can’t answer the question,” Griffin said.

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Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin takes the stand in his trial on Monday. A lawsuit seeks to have him removed from office because of his involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, riots. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Violent mob

Daniel Hodges, an officer in the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., said he noticed early Jan. 6 that there was a potential for things to go awry.

Hodges was assigned to a crowd control position and noticed that people arriving for a Trump rally were wearing tactical gear — helmets, bullet proof vests, padded gloves, goggles and gas masks.

Hodges, who was widely seen in a video of the Jan. 6 attack that showed him screaming as he was being pinned amid a sea of people who were trying to storm the Capitol, testified to the violence that day and the effect that it continues to have on police officers.

Hodges said he suffered numerous bruises and injuries and a likely concussion. At one point, a rioter jammed his thumb into Hodges’ eye. Hodges said some of his fellow officers suffered more serious physical injuries trying to stave off the rioters.

There was also the mental health aspect of the assault.

“Whenever I see footage of that day it makes my heart race and it makes my blood pressure shoot up,” he said. “The PTSD, multiple officers committed suicide over the next year. One officer died the next day of a stroke.”

Hodges testified that even protesters who didn’t attack police or the Capitol still contributed to the assault on the building because the mob of people was so large it made it hard for police to respond.

“The events of Jan. 6, 2021, were a terrorist attack on the Capitol of the United States of America,” he said. “It was a coordinated effort by a violent mob to install a dictator to overturn a free and fair election.”

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