GOP lawmaker charged in Oregon Capitol protest has COVID

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A Republican state lawmaker who authorities say let violent protesters into the Oregon Capitol in December says he is ill with COVID-19.

“I have a really bad case of COVID and I’m kind of on the mend a little bit,” Rep. Mike Nearman said on a conservative radio talk show.

Nearman faces a hearing in Marion County Circuit Court on Tuesday on charges of official misconduct in the first degree and criminal trespass in the second degree for the Dec. 21 breach of the state Capitol by people protesting coronavirus restrictions. Both are misdemeanors, but carry possible jail time.

Nearman said this week on the Lars Larson Show that he will seek a jury trial.

“The Oregon State Police spent over four months investigating me. … Do you think these guys have anything better to do?” Nearman said.

The Republican, who is from the town of Independence near Salem, did not further discuss having COVID-19. On April 20, the Oregon House of Representatives canceled all floor sessions for that week after someone at the Capitol was diagnosed with COVID-19 and may have exposed people in the chamber.

Despite having gotten sick, Nearman told Larson that mask wearing, shutdowns and other edicts should be voluntary.

“Let’s set up some options where people have freedom to do what they want,” Nearman said. “If you want to be masked and you want to be quarantined, go be quarantined. If you want to be out in public and that’s an acceptable risk to you, then you can do that.”

Safety restrictions like wearing masks, however, are not aimed only at protecting the wearer, but to prevent an infected person from spreading the virus.

The breach of the Oregon Capitol was a precursor to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol.

While lawmakers were meeting in emergency session inside the building in Salem to deal with economic fallout from the pandemic, flag-waving supporters of then-President Donald Trump, backers of the false Q-Anon conspiracy theory and anti-maskers were outside, demanding to be let in. The building was closed to the public to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Nearman was seen on security cameras letting protesters in through a side door, where they were quickly confronted by police. Protesters attacked police with bear spray. Outside, some assaulted reporters and broke glass doors.

Nearman said he agreed with the radio host’s contention that the public is required by law and the state Constitution to be allowed in the building during a legislative session.

In January, after Nearman’s role became clear from the security footage, House Speaker Tina Kotek called for his resignation and stripped him of his committee assignments. She repeated the call after the Marion County district attorney filed criminal charges against Nearman on April 30.

“Rep. Nearman put every person in the Capitol in serious danger and created fear among Capitol staff and legislators,” Kotek tweeted.

Nearman’s lawyer, Jason Short, asked the district attorney on Wednesday to produce the names of witnesses the state intends to call.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky