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"Anchorman" actor Jay Johnston pleads guilty to interfering with police during Jan. 6 riot

Actor and Chicago native pleads guilty for involvement in Jan. 6 attack
Actor and Chicago native pleads guilty for involvement in Jan. 6 attack 00:28

An actor who played a street-brawling newsman in the movie "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy" and a pizzeria owner in the television series "Bob's Burgers" pleaded guilty on Monday to interfering with police officers trying to protect the U.S. Capitol from a mob's attack on Jan. 6, 2021.

Jay Johnston, 55, of Los Angeles, faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison after pleading guilty to civil disorder, a felony. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols is scheduled to sentence Johnston on Oct. 7.

Johnston's attorney, Stanley Woodward, told his client not to comment to reporters as they left the courtroom.

Johnston, who was arrested last June, is one of more than 1,400 people charged with federal crimes stemming from the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The FBI alleges that video footage captured Johnston pushing against police and helping rioters who attacked officers guarding an entrance to the Capitol in a tunnel on the Lower West Terrace, according to an FBI agent's affidavit. Johnston held a stolen police shield over his head and passed it to other rioters during the attack on Jan. 6, 2021, the affidavit says.

Capitol Riot Actor Charged
This image from Washington Metropolitan Police Department body-worn video, released and annotated by the Justice Department in the statement of facts supporting an arrest warrant for Jay James Johnston, shows Johnston, circled in yellow, at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. / AP

Johnston "was close to the entrance to the tunnel, turned back and signaled for other rioters to come towards the entrance," the agent wrote.

Video allegedly shows Johnston, wearing a green camouflage neck gaiter and a dark leather jacket, "participated with other rioters in a group assault on the officers," prosecutors said, and later "joined other rioters in pushing repeatedly against the defending police officers."

"The rioters coordinated the timing of the pushes by yelling 'Heave! Ho!'" prosecutors wrote, while posting more than a dozen screen grabs of video from the incident.

Johnston was the voice of the character Jimmy Pesto on Fox's "Bob's Burgers." The Daily Beast reported in 2021 that Johnston was "banned" from the animated show after the Capitol attack.

Johnston appeared on "Mr. Show with Bob and David," an HBO sketch comedy series that starred Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. His credits also include small parts on the television show "Arrested Development" and in the movie "Anchorman," starring Will Ferrell.

A Chicago native, Johnston started his comedy career by doing improv at The Second City and Annoyance Theater in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles, CBS Chicago reported.

Three current or former associates of Johnston identified him as a riot suspect from photos that the FBI published online, according to the agent. The FBI said one of those associates provided investigators with a text message in which Johnston acknowledged being at the Capitol on Jan. 6.

"The news has presented it as an attack. It actually wasn't. Thought it kind of turned into that. It was a mess. Got maced and tear gassed and I found it quite untastic," Johnston wrote, according to the FBI.

Also on Monday, a Texas woman pleaded guilty to assaulting a Metropolitan Police Department officer during the Jan. 6 riot. Video captured Dana Jean Bell cursing at officers inside the Capitol and grabbing an officer's baton, according to an FBI agent's affidavit.

Bell, 65, of Princeton, Texas, also was captured on video assaulting a local television journalist outside the Capitol that day. The FBI affidavit says Bell appeared to reach out and try to push or grab the journalist, who worked for the Fox affiliate in Washington, D.C.

Bell faces a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly is scheduled to sentence her on Oct. 17. Her estimated sentencing guidelines recommend a term of imprisonment ranging from two years to two years and six months.

Bell and her attorney, Joe Shearin, declined to comment as they left the courtroom.

The Justice Department has prosecuted more than 1,200 criminal cases in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol assault. Of those, more than 700 have pleaded guilty to various charges, and scores more have been convicted. 

Last month, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a former Pennsylvania police officer who was charged with obstructing an official proceeding after he entered the U.S. Capitol building during the riot, and narrowed the Justice Department's use of a federal obstruction statute leveled against scores of people who breached the building. The decision could affect the ongoing prosecutions of nearly 250 defendants charged with obstruction for their participation in the Jan. 6 assault.

The government has recovered only a fraction of the court-ordered restitution payments for repairs, police injuries and cleanup of the damage caused by the rioters, according to a review by CBS News.  Former President Donald Trump has publicly pledged to pardon Jan. 6 defendants but hasn't specified whether he would also seek to commute their restitution payments.

Robert Legare, Melissa Quinn and Scott MacFarlane contributed to this report.

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