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Regional Interests

Former Rep. Mike Nearman pleads guilty to official misconduct in Oregon Capitol incursion

Former Oregon State Representative Mike Nearman speaks to defense attorney Jason Short on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Nearman pleaded guilty to official misconduct in connection with allowing armed demonstrators into the state Capitol last year.
Former Oregon State Representative Mike Nearman speaks to defense attorney Jason Short on Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Nearman pleaded guilty to official misconduct in connection with allowing armed demonstrators into the state Capitol last year.

Former state Rep. Mike Nearman illegally allowed armed demonstrators into the locked Oregon state Capitol last year. Now he’s banned from the building himself.

On Tuesday morning, Nearman pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree official misconduct in connection with the Dec. 21 incident. In exchange for prosecutors dropping a second charge of criminal trespassing, Nearman accepted a sentence that includes an 18-month ban from Capitol grounds, 80 hours of community service, and $2,900 in fines and restitution for damage to the Capitol.

Appearing before Marion County Circuit Judge Cheryl Pellegrini, Nearman acknowledged that he performed an illegal act “which constituted an unauthorized exercise of his official duties with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another.”

But his path to that admission was somewhat rocky, as Nearman maintained some of the defiance he’s shown since his role in the incursion was revealed in January.

Asked by Pellegrini to explain his actions, Nearman replied that he “opened a door in the Capitol. I went out. And that allowed people, citizens to enter the Capitol.”

But when Pellegrini pressed on the specifics of the crime he was confessing to, which includes intent to harm others or benefit himself, Nearman balked. “I had no intention of harming anyone,” he said. “I suppose that the benefit would have been that I think the citizens were allowed to be in the Capitol, so I was letting them in.”

Pellegrini and Deputy Marion County District Attorney Matthew Kemmy weren’t satisfied with that answer, and after whispered coaching from his lawyer, Nearman offered more.

“One other benefit to me was that it provided the appearance that I was helping citizens enter the Capitol,” he said. “That would make me appear favorable to certain citizen groups.”

Asked if he knew what demonstrators intended once inside the Capitol, Nearman said he did not. “I don’t support what they did once they entered.”

A four-term Republican from Polk County, Nearman became the first lawmaker in Oregon history to be expelled from the Legislature in June, after evidence emerged he’d plotted with supporters to open the Capitol to demonstrators as lawmakers met in special session Dec. 21.

After Nearman allowed armed demonstrators inside that morning, video shows them scuffling with police, and at least one person using mace on officers. Even after the crowd was forced out of the Capitol, some members vandalized the building and assaulted journalists.

Nearman has been largely unrepentant for his actions. In the face of his House colleagues unanimously voting to expel him from the body, he’d been defiant, suggesting he was upholding the state Constitution by allowing citizens into the Capitol.

Appearing on a conservative talk radio show in May, Nearman insisted he would demand a jury trial for the charges against him. But that was prior to damning video footage that later emerged, showing Nearman planning with supporters to allow them into the Capitol as lawmakers met in a special session on Dec. 21. The emergence of that video resulted in all of Nearman’s fellow House Republicans, who’d otherwise been largely silent, calling for his resignation.

Beyond expulsion, Nearman has also been invoiced for $2,712 in damages that occurred in the Capitol after he allowed demonstrators inside. Nearman has not paid that amount, but he now must as part of his sentence.

Nearman’s plea came as lawmakers in Washington, D.C. are taking up an investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. The parallel was not lost on Pellegrini, who said from the bench that she was listening in on those hearings Tuesday morning.

“There was a Capitol police officer that testified,” Pellegrini said. “He said a thing that just stuck in my mind … ‘Democracy is bigger than any person and it’s bigger than any political party.’ I think he’s right about that. Democracy is built on the principle that when there’s disagreement, that starts the public discussion and debate. It doesn’t end it. That’s the province of tyranny and anarchy … I suspect we probably agree on that.”

Nearman nodded. Hours later, he appeared on conservative talk radio host Lars Larson’s show to explain he had committed no crime, and had only pleaded guilty because of mounting legal bills.

“No I don’t think I did anything wrong,” said Nearman, “and I think the judge was trying to get me to say that in the courtroom and I didn’t really say that. I said I admit to what you’ve got on the paper.”

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting