Former state Rep. Mike Nearman appears set to plead guilty to charges that he abused his duties as an elected official by opening the Oregon Capitol to far-right demonstrators last year.
After insisting in May that he would take his case to a jury, court records show Nearman’s case is now set for a plea/sentencing hearing next week. It’s not clear whether Nearman has worked out a deal with Marion County prosecutors or will plead to both of the misdemeanor charges against him, first-degree official misconduct and second-degree criminal trespass.
Together, the two crimes are punishable by more than a year in jail and $7,500, though it is unlikely Nearman would receive those maximums. Neither Nearman nor his attorney immediately returned inquiries about next week’s hearing.
Marion County District Attorney Paige Clarkson declined to comment Tuesday, saying she could not discuss any negotiations surrounding a plea.
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.
Under the official misconduct charge, prosecutors stated that Nearman “being a public servant, did unlawfully and knowingly perform an act which constituted an unauthorized exercise of his official duties with intent to obtain a benefit or to harm another.”
For the trespassing charge, prosecutors say that Nearman, “constituting part of a common scheme or plan,” unlawfully aided and abetted “another to unlawfully and knowingly enter and remain in and upon the premises of the Oregon State Capitol.”
Nearman has been unrepentant about his actions, suggesting repeatedly that legislative leaders were violating the Oregon Constitution by locking the Capitol to the general public during legislative session. He declined to resign at the request of every other House Republican, and shortly before his expulsion chastised fellow lawmakers.
“You’re considering expelling a member, for the first time in history, because he thinks that people should have access to their Capitol, especially during session,” Nearman said.
The former lawmaker has been similarly insistent about his criminal case, suggesting in May that he would not plead guilty.
“We’re going to the jury … and we’ll see what the jury has to say,” Nearman told conservative radio host Lars Larson at the time. “I think they’ve got a little bit of an uphill battle to convince these jurors that that’s a good use of Marion County jail space.”
When he made those comments, however, Nearman was still unwilling to talk about whether he intended to allow demonstrators into the building. Any question of his intent ended in early June, when video emerged of Nearman coaching supporters to text him what door they were waiting at on Dec. 21.
“We’re talking about setting up Operation Hall Pass, which I don’t know anything about, and if you accuse me of knowing anything about it, I will deny it,” Nearman said in the video.
He continued: “There might be some person’s number which might be [Nearman recited his cell phone number], but that is just random numbers ... that’s not anybody’s actual cell phone. And if you say, ‘I’m at the West entrance’ during the session and text to that number there, that somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there.”
While text records from Dec. 21 have not emerged, video footage showed that Nearman did open a door off the west side of the Capitol rotunda to demonstrators that morning.
OPB reporter Conrad Wilson contributed to this story.