Feds arrest third Michigan resident in Capitol riot probe

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
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Federal agents Thursday arrested a President Trump supporter from Shelby Township accused of breaking into the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot.

James Allen Mels, 56, posted selfies after entering the Capitol and told investigators he traveled to Washington, D.C., with 11 other "like minded Patriots" because "he believed the 2020 presidential election to have been fraudulently decided," according to a federal court filing.

The sheet metal worker was released on $10,000 unsecured bond following an initial appearance in federal court in Detroit. He is the third person from Michigan charged with a federal crime in connection with the Capitol riot. His case is in the process of being transferred to Washington, D.C. 

James Mels

A handcuffed and shackled Mels was dressed in a dark hoodie and gray shirt during the court hearing. He appeared confused and stared at the defense table before saying, at one point, "I really don’t understand a whole lot of this."

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He eventually received a court-appointed lawyer and was released on bond.

"His solid faith, lifetime of work and family supported a release on an unsecured bond and he’ll answer to the charges in D.C.," his lawyer, Jonathan Epstein, wrote in an email to The Detroit News.

Investigators started focusing on Mels, who also owns the Roseville vehicle repair business Mels Monster Garage, after being contacted by an acquaintance last month. The tipster said Mels may have been injured by rubber bullets during the riot.

The criminal case against Mels charges him with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority, and violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds. The court documents were not publicly available Thursday. If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in federal prison.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington.

FBI investigators questioned Mels on Jan. 25 at his home. Mels admitted entering the Capitol with a copy of the U.S. Constitution after saying a brief prayer and planned to talk to an officer inside the building.

While being questioned, Mels showed investigators several photos of the Capitol interior, including a Senate hallway, the Crypt, an atrium and Hall of Commons.

FBI investigators found these photos on the phone of Shelby Township resident James Mels.

Mels said he was exposed to gas during the riot but was not shot with rubber bullets and did not engage in violence, according to the court filing.

He traveled to the Capitol with 11 people he met through online platforms, including the "Patriot Hour" podcast, according to the government.

Last month, Calumet resident Karl Dresch, 40, was charged with knowingly entering or remaining in restricted grounds without lawful authority as well as impeding or disrupting official functions, a one-year misdemeanor carrying up to $100,000 in fines. The other charge is violent entry and disorderly conduct on the U.S. Capitol grounds, a six-month misdemeanor carrying an up to $5,000 fine.

Wixom resident Michael Foy, meanwhile, was accused of striking a law enforcement officer at least 10 times with a hockey stick before "rallying" others to climb through broken windows into the Capitol.

Mels drew attention after Trump was elected in November 2016. A photo was posted on Mels’ Facebook page of President Barack Obama hanging from a noose, according to the Motor City Muckraker website.

“Congratulations to all that supported TRUMP,” the caption read. “You my friends are winners. Now lets get to work and hang these traitors. Starting at the top? Public hangings in order. Start with this guy IslamaObama.”

rsnell@detroitnews.com

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