Feds charge NJ correctional police officer in connection with Capitol riot
Officials charged Marissa Suarez with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority
By Anna Orso
The Philadelphia Inquirer
MONMOUTH COUNTY, N.J. — Federal authorities on Friday charged a prominent right-wing activist from South Jersey and a Monmouth County correctional officer in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol mob riot.
Stephanie Hazelton, of Medford, who also identifies herself as Ayla Wolf, was seen on video directing members of a crowd of people barreling into police officers and pushing through the building's West Terrace entrance in an effort to breach the Capitol building. She repeatedly said to others "we need more men" and "we gotta keep going. "
The video, uploaded to YouTube by a self-described conservative channel Action 8 News, doesn't show if Hazelton participated in violence that occurred at the same entrance. Another video from the scene shows a group of rioters beat police officers with batons and shields. She hasn't responded to calls, messages, and a letter left at her home seeking comment.
Hazelton's LinkedIn says she's the founder of New Jersey for Medical Freedom, the state chapter of an anti-vaccine network. She's organized demonstrations against proposed legislation the Garden State, including a bill that would have required schoolchildren get a flu shot.
She was also a familiar face outside Atilis Gym, the Bellmawr facility that this year garnered national attention for flouting Gov. Phil Murphy's pandemic-related restrictions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Bender said during an initial court appearance via Zoom Friday that Hazelton was seen on video "trying to incite or recruit people to participate in the attack." She faces several counts, including a felony charge of obstructing or impeding law enforcement during civil disorder.
Hazelton's attorney Daryl Kipnis — a New Jersey lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a pro- Trump Republican in 2018 — said during the hearing that there are no allegations Hazelton had a weapon or intended to "cause any bodily harm." In arguing for her release, he said Hazelton home-schools her two small children, and also cited the COVID-19 pandemic and "the risk she would have if she was incarcerated."
She was released on unsecured bond, and her case will play out in federal court in Washington.
Federal authorities have charged dozens of people in connection with the insurrection, including four other individuals from New Jersey and eight from Pennsylvania. Among those facing charges are a retired firefighter, a Marine veteran, and a self-styled pickup artist.
On Friday, officials also charged Marissa A. Suarez, of Trenton, with knowingly entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority. She was released on unsecured bond.
A Monmouth County spokesperson confirmed Suarez has worked in the county jail as a correctional police officer since 2019 and resigned after charges were filed.
"Actions have consequences," Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said in a statement, "and that applies to those who participated in the peaceful protests that resulted in violence at the Capitol."
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