CLEVELAND — An occupational therapist with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District who resigned from her job last week has been charged in federal court for her alleged involvement in the U.S. Capitol riots after she was identified in a photograph showing her at the Senate President's desk.
Christine Priola, 49, was arrested Thursday and charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricting building or grounds without lawful authority, violent entry and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, and unlawful activities in Capitol grounds, parades, assemblages and display of flags.
During her initial court appearance, Priola waived her identity hearing and reserved her preliminary hearing to be held in DC. She was released on a $20,000 unsecured bond, but with the conditions of home detention and electronic home monitoring. She cannot leave the Northern District of Ohio except to go to court in DC. She is also restricted to her computer use and must provide all passwords and submit to searches of all electronic devices.
The arrest comes nearly a week after federal agents entered Priola's home in Willoughby with evidence boxes and searched her house and garage. News 5 was on scene but did not identify her at that time.
The warrant states that FBI agents recovered a laptop, two desktop computers, several thumb drives, an iPhone, clothing, a sign and other materials consistent with the photos taken of Priola on Jan. 6.
Agents searched Priola's phone and were unable to recover photos, videos, chats or messages from Jan. 4 to Jan. 7, but they did recover location data showing the device was just northeast of the U.S. Capitol at 4:23 p.m. on Jan. 6.
The criminal complaint filed by the FBI on Thursday states that photos of individuals who forced their way into the Capitol and into restricted areas of the building, including the Senate chambers, circulated on various news platforms. One photo shows a woman holding a sign that read, in part, "The Children Cry Out for Justice," and pointing a phone at another individual in the seat of the Vice President. The complaint said the woman was wearing a red winter coat and distinctive pants with "Trump" and other words written on the leg.
An Associated Press photo taken outside the Capitol on Jan. 6 shows a woman who appears to be Priola, who is wearing this distinctive outfit and carrying a sign, on the steps of the building.
On or about Jan. 8, via a Twitter post, the FBI received an anonymous tip that Priola was the woman depicted in the photos. The post also identified her as being employed with CMSD.
Priola submitted her resignation to the district on Thursday, Jan. 7, the district confirmed to News 5, the same day the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department released a series of photos of persons of interest in unrest-related offenses at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Her letter, which was in her personnel file provided by the district, reads:
I am leaving CMSD for the following reasons:
1. I will not be taking the corona virus 19 vaccine in order to return to in person learning.
2. I will be switching paths to expose the global evil of human trafficking and pedophilia, including in our government and children’s service agencies.
3. I do not agree with my union dues which help fund people and groups that support the killing of unborn children.
I will be working on completing paperwork and will not be seeing students virtually.
The baseless belief that a global human trafficking and pedophilia ring led by Democratic government officials is propagated by the conspiracy theory group QAnon.
While Gov. DeWine announced earlier this week the state's plan to make COVID-19 vaccines available to educators by Feb. 1, CMSD has not publicly announced plans to make vaccination compulsory to staff members. You can read CMSD CEO Eric Gordon's statement about the vaccine here.
According to Priola’s personnel file, she has been continuously employed with the district since 2014 and was first hired by CMSD in 2000.
CMSD officials did not deny that Priola was the woman pictures, and when asked about her alleged involvement in the U.S. Capitol riots, Roseann Canfora, the district's deputy chief of communications, provided this statement:
Questions raised today about a former CMSD employee’s alleged involvement in the riots at the U.S. Capitol this week have also raised questions about the District’s position on such behaviors. While CMSD deeply believes in the right of any individual to peacefully protest, as many did on the Capitol plaza on Wednesday afternoon, the District deeply condemns the actions of those involved in the riots inside the Capitol and on the Capitol grounds. The right of peaceful protest, as protected by the first amendment, is a foundation of our democracy. The forcible takeover and willful destruction of our government is not.
The Cleveland Teachers Union also provided a statement that read, in part: "We are aware of reports of a Cleveland educator who engaged in rioting in the Capitol. We take these allegations very seriously and if true, they must be held accountable."
News 5 crews went to Priola's address to seek comment last Friday. A person inside did not answer the door and instead put a sign with the words "Save our children" in the window.
As confirmed by the FBI, Priola was one of dozens of persons of interest seen in photos released this week by the Washington DC police and FBI, who asked the public to help identify those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday.
Anyone who can identify the individuals in the released images or has knowledge of any of the incidents is asked to call Washington DC police at (202) 727-9099 or text tips to the department's tip line at 50411.
The Washington DC Metropolitan Police Department currently offers a reward of up to $1,000 to anyone who provides information that leads to the arrest and indictment of the person or persons responsible for a crime committed in D.C.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI ) says it’s also seeking information related to the violent activity seen at the Capitol building on Wednesday. In a statement, the bureau said it’s asking the public to help identify the individuals who actively instigated violence in D.C.
The FBI’s Washington Field Office released images Thursday evening of people who they say made unlawful entry into the Capitol.
If you recognize these people or witnessed unlawful violent actions, the FBI says to submit any information, photos or videos that could be relevant at fbi.gov/USCapitol.
“Please use this form to submit any images, videos, or other multimedia files you have related to possible violations of federal law committed,” wrote the FBI. “Our goal is to preserve the public’s constitutional right to protest by protecting everyone from violence and other criminal activity.”
When reached for comment last week, Special Agent Vicki Anderson-Gregg with the Cleveland FBI referred News 5 to FBI Director Christopher Wray’s statement and said additional information cannot be released at this time.
Director Wray’s statement reads:
“The violence and destruction of property at the U.S. Capitol building yesterday showed a blatant and appalling disregard for our institutions of government and the orderly administration of the democratic process. As we’ve said consistently, we do not tolerate violent agitators and extremists who use the guise of First Amendment-protected activity to incite violence and wreak havoc. Such behavior betrays the values of our democracy. Make no mistake: With our partners, we will hold accountable those who participated in yesterday’s siege of the Capitol.
“Let me assure the American people the FBI has deployed our full investigative resources and is working closely with our federal, state, and local partners to aggressively pursue those involved in criminal activity during the events of January 6. Our agents and analysts have been hard at work through the night gathering evidence, sharing intelligence, and working with federal prosecutors to bring charges. Members of the public can help by providing tips, information, and videos of illegal activity at fbi.gov/USCapitol. We are determined to find those responsible and ensure justice is served.”
Most of the people in the images are facing unlawful entry charges after they forced their way into the Capitol. Others may also be charged for stolen property, as some took items from the building when they exited.
The insurgent mob of Pro-Trump protesters prompted the Capitol to lock down and delayed Congress from confirming President-elect Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory.
In the end, five people died amid the protests that sought to overturn the election in President Donald Trump’s favor. One person was shot by a police officer, and four others suffered medical emergencies. Capitol police officer Brian D. Sicknick died at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday from injuries sustained during Wednesday's riot.