Two years after Jan. 6, most WNY defendants are on probation after pleading guilty
Four have been sentenced to probation, while another was given jail time due to an alleged lack of remorse. One was confined to his parents’ home and told not to watch cable news pending the outcome of his case, while another released on his own recognizance remains active at school board meetings and churches.
Now two years removed from the Jan. 6 insurrection, most Western New Yorkers charged with storming the U.S. Capitol building that day have resolved their cases, but some cases are ongoing.
That more or less fits with Jan. 6 cases nationally. Over half of the approximately 1,000 people charged in what has become the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history have been convicted thus far, either through guilty pleas or at trial, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Still, hundreds more await a resolution, and federal authorities continue to post photos and videos in order to find more suspects.
Here’s a look at the Western New York cases.
Five have been sentenced, including First Amendment YouTuber
Traci Sunstrum can be seen in Capitol surveillance images wearing stars-and-stripes pajamas and taking videos on her cell phone. In one of Sunstrum’s videos taken just outside the Capitol, police throw a flash bang near her direction. She then swears at police and tells fellow rioters to “hold the line.”
Suntrum was the first Western New Yorker to reach a plea agreement in connection to the attack on the Capitol. The 45-year-old Amherst woman pleaded guilty in November of 2021 to the misdemeanor charge of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building, and was later sentenced to three years’ probation.
It’s the same plea and sentencing that most Western New York defendants have faced thus far.
That includes John Juran, a 52-year-old Getzville man who attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6. Although there was no evidence that Juran engaged in any violence or destructive behavior at the Capitol building, prosecutors say he did walk into the Parliamentarian’s office and take photos that he later deleted. He can be seen in surveillance video wearing a “Trump 2020” cowboy hat.
Also on that list is a father and son, William Michael and William Jacob “Billy” Sywak. The two had made the trip from Western New York to Washington, D.C. “to bond because they had not had a close relationship in the past,” William Michael Sywak’s defense lawyer said in court. The elder Sywak, a 46-year-old Arcade resident, had left the family not long after Billy, a 28-year-old Hamburg resident, was born.
At one point during the riot, the two could be seen on Capitol surveillance video locking arms and walking down a hallway together. After the riot, the younger Sywak was “gleeful” in text messages, according to federal prosecutors.
The first — and so far the only — Western New Yorker to receive jail time for his role in Jan. 6 is Daniel Warmus. The 38-year-old Alden man was sentenced to 45 days in custody this past fall after pleading guilty to the same misdemeanor charge as other Western New York defendants.
His tougher sentence may have had more to do with his online activity than his actions on Jan. 6.
Warmus’ YouTube channel, “Auditing Erie County,” was cited by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman at sentencing. On the proclaimed First Amendment advocacy channel, Warmus posts videos of himself confronting police officers and other public officials over his right to film inside government-owned buildings.
However, Rochester City Hall reportedly received harassing emails and even a death threat after Warmus included its publicly available contact information in one of his videos.
"His conduct since he pled guilty does not show remorse, does not show he learned his lesson, does not show he knows boundaries," Friedman said at sentencing. "His conduct over the last six months, while on pretrial supervision, is a threat to the community.”
As for Warmus’ conduct on Jan. 6, prosecutors allege he was among the first wave of rioters to enter the Capitol building. He was seen wearing a “CNN is fake news” sweatshirt and holding a flag that read “F*** Antifa.”
Warmus’ initial arrest made headlines, as it came after he bragged at a dentist office about storming the Capitol. Someone at the office overheard Warmus and contacted the FBI.
Two released under different circumstances
Two Western New York defendants remain released from custody pending the outcome of their cases, albeit under wildly different circumstances.
Thomas Sibick faces the most serious Jan. 6 charge of any Western New Yorker. The 36-year-old Amherst man was charged with assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers, a felony which carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. He’s accused of stealing D.C. police officer Michael Fanone’s radio and badge and then burying the badge in his backyard.
In October of 2021, a federal judge released Sibick into the custody of his father and ordered him confined to his parents’ Williamsville home. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson later loosened the restrictions to allow Sibick to go to work, but his request to eat at restaurants and go jogging in the neighborhood was denied this past summer.
Jackson even went as far as to order that cable news, including political talk shows, not be played at Sibick’s parents’ house, saying Sibick needs a “calm environment.” The judge had cited concerns that Sibick’s father, Eugene Sibick, attended a September 2021 right-wing rally in Washington, D.C. and publicly criticized the jailing of Jan. 6 defendants.
Yet this past fall, Eugene Sibick, who is the Amherst Republican Committee’s treasurer, emceed a presentation by election-denying group New York Citizens Audit that included the airing of debunked documentary “2000 Mules.”
Still, Sibick’s restrictions pale in comparison to the Western New York defendant with an unresolved case.
Pete Harding was charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds.
The 49-year-old Cheektowaga man entered the Capitol building and attempted to light media equipment on fire outside. In a Facebook Live video the day afterward, Harding said, “If we can take the Capitol building, there is nothing we can’t accomplish.”
Yet Harding has remained highly visible in the two years since his arrest. A member of various far-right groups who counter protested Black Lives Matter protests and led demonstrations against COVID-19 restrictions in 2020, Harding led an anti-mask protest that shut down a Clarence school board meeting in September 2021.
Following the racist mass shooting at the Tops Market on Jefferson Avenue, Harding was photographed by WBFO holding a Christian flag outside President Biden’s speech at the Delavan Grider Community Center. Harding also spoke at a predominantly Black church on Buffalo’s East Side.
Neither Sibick nor Harding’s attorneys returned a request for comment. Sibick is set to appear back in court Jan. 27, while Harding is to make another appearance Feb. 14.
More than half of defendants nationally have been convicted so far
So how does Western New York compare to the rest of the country?
Of the more than 950 defendants arrested from across nearly all 50 states, approximately 484 have pleaded guilty and another 50 have been convicted at trials, the Justice Department says. Of the approximately 351 defendants who have already received sentences, 192 have been sentenced to jail time, while 87 were given home confinement.
So Western New York’s five convictions and two unresolved cases fall in line with the national trend of Jan. 6 cases.
Still, Western New York does remain an outlier in other ways. Erie County’s six Capitol riot defendants is tied for the sixth-most of any county in the nation, according to a George Washington University Program on Extremism database.
Research from the University of Chicago shows many Jan. 6 defendants are from places like Erie County: urban-suburban areas controlled by Democrats. The research found counties with a declining number of non-Hispanic whites, like Erie County, were five times more likely to have a Capitol storming participant.
The House select committee wrapped up its Jan. 6 investigation of the riot, but a special counsel is overseeing a federal investigations into Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.