Olympic gold medalist swimmer Klete Keller, who threw his USA team jacket in a trash can after he stormed the U.S. Capitol, was sentenced on Friday to six months of home detention for joining the mob’s Jan. 6 attack on the seat of American democracy.
At 6-foot-6, Keller towered over police officers guarding the Capitol and other Donald Trump supporters who breached the building, and he was quickly identified by authorities. He pleaded guilty in 2021 to a felony charge and was one of the first rioters to publicly agree to cooperate with authorities investigating the Capitol attack.
Video captured Keller leading profane chants directed at then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats. He also joined a chorus of rioters in singing the national anthem in the middle of the Capitol. He resisted efforts to remove him from the Capitol, ripping an elbow away and shaking off a police officer, prosecutors said.
U.S. District Judge Richard Leon sentenced Keller to three years of probation, including six months of home detention, and ordered him to perform 360 hours of community service — at a rate of 10 hours per month that he is under court supervision.
Keller told the judge he knew his actions on Jan. 6 left lawmakers in fear and made it more difficult for police to do their job.
“I have no excuse for why I am in front of you today,” he said. “I understand my actions were criminal and that I am fully responsible for my conduct.”
A prosecutor, Troy Edwards Jr., asked the judge to sentence Keller to 10 months of imprisonment. Federal sentencing guidelines recommended a term of imprisonment ranging from 15 to 21 months.
But the judge said he believes Keller’s time will be better spent speaking to teenagers and college students about his mistakes — and how to avoid repeating them — than serving time behind bars.
“If there ever was a case that screams out for probation, this is it,” Leon said.
During the Jan. 6 riot, Keller wore a jacket with an American flag on a sleeve, an Olympic team patch on the front and the letters “U.S.A.” across the back. Prosecutors said he tossed the jacket into a trash can on his way back to a hotel and later smashed his cellphone with a hammer because he knew he was “fleeing a crime scene.”
“Klete Derik Keller once wore the American flag as an Olympian. On January 6, 2021, he threw that flag in a trash can,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.
Keller’s lawyer said he threw away the jacket out of shame after leaving the Capitol and encountering a young boy and his father on a train. The boy asked Keller about his Olympic career and requested a photo with him, defense attorney Zachary Deubler said in a court filing.
Keller felt that “he let this young man down by behaving the way that he did, and the moment that this young man and father find out what he did, their admiration for him would be shattered,” Deubler wrote.
Investigators never recovered the jacket or any cellphone videos or photos that he recorded at the Capitol. Keller surrendered to authorities about a week after returning home to Colorado.
Keller has been cooperating with investigators since he pleaded guilty to obstructing the Jan. 6 joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Prosecutors pointed to Keller’s “substantial assistance” as grounds for leniency.
Prosecutors said his early guilty plea “undoubtedly reached thousands of others weighing whether to turn themselves in, plead guilty, or even cooperate.” They added that his “public acknowledgement that his interference with the peaceful transfer of power was, in fact, a serious crime provided an important counterweight to the false narrative that January 6 was a peaceful, lawful protest.”
Keller experienced personal and financial problems after retiring from professional swimming. After separating from his wife in 2014, Keller lived out of his car for nearly a year while working three jobs to pay for child support and other expenses, according to his attorney.
After the Capitol riot, he lost a job and regular visitation with his children. Last year, he signed the paperwork for his children to be adopted by their stepfather, his attorney said.
“I hope my case serves as a warning to anyone who rationalizes illegal conduct, especially in a moment of political fervor,” Keller wrote in a letter to the judge. “The consequences of my behavior will follow me and my family for the rest of our lives.”
On Jan. 6, Keller attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House with a friend before marching with a crowd to the Capitol. He entered the building through an open door on the Upper West Terrace and remained inside for nearly an hour.
Keller came within 50 feet of the Senate chamber, which lawmakers evacuated as the mob swarmed the building. Police officers had to forcibly remove Keller and other rioters from the Capitol through the East Rotunda lobby.
Keller won five medals, including two golds, while competing for the U.S. at three summer Olympics. At the 2000 games in Sydney, Australia, he won an individual bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle event and a silver medal as the anchor leg of a relay.
At the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece, Keller swam the anchor leg when the U.S. won gold medals in the 800-meter freestyle relay. He and teammates Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Peter Vanderkaay narrowly held off a rival Australian team. At the 2008 games in Beijing, China, Keller won another gold medal in a freestyle relay.
Approximately 1,200 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Nearly 900 of them have pleaded guilty or been convicted by a judge or jury after trials. Over 700 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds receiving prison sentences ranging from three days to 22 years.