Federal authorities have arrested a pair of Summerville neighbors, including an attorney at the George Sink personal injury law firm, on charges of storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Attorney David Charles Johnston, 66, and handyman Chadwick Gordon Clifton, 47, were arraigned at the Charleston federal courthouse hours after their May 20 arrests. The pair are the latest of 16 South Carolinians and more than 800 Americans from all 50 states to face charges in connection with the violence at the Capitol last year.
The arrests come just a day after federal authorities rounded up three members of a Rock Hill family on similar Jan. 6 charges. Most of South Carolina’s defendants were supporters of then-President Donald Trump who traveled to Washington, D.C., that day to hear him trumpet since-disproven claims that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election with strategic voter fraud in battleground states.
Thousands marched on the Capitol after Trump’s rally, overpowering the small police force that guarded the building and flooding through the building’s halls. Members of Congress fled to safety before returning later that night to formally certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Johnston and Clifton, who live a few doors down from each other on a Summerville cul-de-sac, were among the crowd that day and entered the Capitol together wearing Trump memorabilia, investigators allege. Cellphone GPS data, posts on Facebook and TikTok and Capitol surveillance footage place them inside the building during the earliest stages of the storming, charging documents state. The pair remained inside between about 2:32 p.m. and 2:48 p.m., documents attest.
Four FBI tipsters, including at least three of Clifton’s coworkers at a Mount Pleasant property maintenance company, helped identify him for investigators, charging documents state.
Investigators also searched Clifton’s Facebook records and found messages where he bragged about his involvement.
A day after the riot, he described Jan. 6 as an “awesome day” and told a friend he was on the way home, investigators said.
“We are in a war and 95% of the people don’t even know it,” Clifton wrote in another Jan. 9, 2021, Facebook message. “When I went to DC that was an experience of a lifetime. I’m sorry that I went inside a broken door where we could have potential he (sic) got in trouble but I was a patriot and I made sure that people didn’t destroy things and picked up trash.”
Johnston, a Campbell University law school graduate, was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 2012 and remains a licensed attorney in good standing, online records show.
The George Sink law firm, well-known around South Carolina for its ubiquitous TV ads, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Johnston is featured prominently on the firm’s website. In a two-minute video posted to his biography page, Johnston says he is a married father of four whose love for riding motorcycles gives him an edge in personal injury cases involving bikers.
His arrest could trigger scrutiny from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, a state agency that investigates lawyer conduct and forwards its findings up to the state Supreme Court for possible discipline.
The office’s ears perk up when lawyers are accused of breaking laws or ethical codes. It’s empowered to launch investigations based on news reports, criminal charges or complaints submitted about an attorney’s behavior.
“Everybody gets speeding tickets and things like that,” said Barbara Seymour, a former deputy disciplinary counsel at the ODC. “But when a lawyer is violating the law, that calls into question the integrity of the legal profession but also that lawyer’s fitness to practice law.”
The men made for an unusual pair in the courthouse May 20.
Johnston appeared professorial, despite the chains wrapped around his waist. The gray-haired man wore a purple dress shirt and gray slacks at his arraignment hearing before U.S. District Court Magistrate Molly Cherry.
Meanwhile, Clifton appeared before the magistrate in a white t-shirt and blue jeans. His dirty-blonde hair was uncombed and tattoos decorated his arms.
In separate hearings, the men conferred with their defense attorneys before telling the magistrate they understood their rights and the misdemeanor charges leveled against them.
Cherry granted a $25,000 unsecured bond for the men, meaning they did not need to post any money to be released from custody. She ordered both men to surrender their firearms and passports while awaiting trial. They are prohibited from leaving South Carolina, except to travel to Washington D.C. for court hearings.
Randy Hough, defense attorney for Johnston, opposed authorities taking his client’s guns, arguing Johnston was a married father of two who posed no danger to the community and was not a flight risk.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Johnston told the magistrate. “I respectfully look forward to my day in court. I will not be a problem.”
Hough requested a preliminary hearing on the charges. Clifton’s defense attorney, Nathan Williams, advised his client to waive the hearing.
Hough said after the hearing that, based on the evidence he’s seen so far, he believes Johnson is innocent. Regarding his client’s law license, he urged the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to move cautiously to avoid the appearance of a political witch hunt.
“There are allegations here, that may not even be true, that someone trespassed and was disorderly,” Hough said. “I don’t see how that would impact someone’s ability to be a trustworthy lawyer.”
This week’s arrests show the federal investigation into Jan. 6 remains ongoing even after 16 months. Agents have tracked down members of the mob with the help of tipsters, surveillance footage, social media posts and cellphone GPS data.
Seven of South Carolina’s defendants have already been convicted, most receiving sentences of probation or house arrest after agreeing to plea deals with prosecutors.
Those who have been sentenced expressed remorse to federal judges in Washington for their part in an election protest-turned-riot that briefly disrupted the peaceful transition of power in the nation’s capital.
The rest are still weighing whether to plead guilty or take their charges to trial.
Just one S.C. defendant, Little River construction worker Nicholas Languerand, has been sentenced to prison time in connection with Jan. 6. Languerand, a QAnon conspiracy theorist with a history of threatening police, will spend nearly four years behind bars for throwing objects at officers guarding a Capitol entrance that day.