Jessica Lopez, 34 of the 400 block of East Marion Street, Lancaster, was sentenced April 4 by Lancaster County Judge Merrill Spahn to 13 to 30 months in state prison for her role in the riot outside the Lancaster City Bureau of Police station on the night of Sept. 13, 2020. Lopez was convicted in November in a jury trial with charges of rioting, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, obstruction of highways and defiant trespass.
Lopez, the mother of four children, was taken into custody after the sentence was read and transported to prison.
During the sentencing, multiple supporters of Lopez spoke about her character, with Judge Spahn stating “many of the speakers today raised a meritorious point that people can overcome their past.”
However, Spahn said Lopez’s previous criminal record raised serious questions regarding her sentencing, including a conviction of aggravated assault and a federal conviction of drug dealing as two of the multiple prior convictions on her record.
“Prior record matters,” Spahn said during the sentencing hearing. “This court cannot and will not overlook a prior record.”
First Deputy District Attorney Cody Wade, who prosecuted the case, noted Lopez’s significant prior record score,” saying the minimum sentencing guideline with her prior record score was 9 to 16 months in state prison. Wade requested a sentence at the higher end of the guideline range because Lopez “did not take responsibility for her actions” during the riot and painted herself as a “victim and political prisoner” during the trial.
“I think what was presented was a straightforward case,” Wade said at the sentencing. “This is not a peaceful protest that happened to go wrong. The driver behind this regrettable night was Jessica Lopez.”
Lopez’s defense counsel, Christopher Patterson, argued that she was there to engage in a protest and did not instruct anyone to destroy property and destroyed no property herself. Patterson said Lopez was punished for “her words rather than actions.”
Judge Spahn said he disagreed with the defense argument.
“The law is apolitical,” Spahn said before the sentencing. “And with this judge, politics will not enter the conversation.”
Two other defendants – Lee Wise, 31, of Camp Hill who now identifies as a transgender woman named Alexa Wise, and Taylor Enterline, 23, of Manheim – were also sentenced for their roles in the 2020 riot, receiving sentences of three years of probation and 125 hours of community service. Both were found guilty of riot, failure to disperse, obstructing highways and defiant trespass in January 2023.
Judge Spahn spoke to Wise, who was the final defendant to be sentenced, saying he had “no reason to question your intent.”
“Conversations about racial and social injustice are hard to have and have been that way in our society for a long time,” Spahn said. “In the summer of 2020 after George Floyd, the tensions were high. While the right to peacefully protest is protected by our constitution, peaceful protesting has never included violence and chaos. Lancaster City Bureau of Police did nothing wrong that night. Their response was professional.”
Lopez, Wise, and Enterline were three of 12 adults arrested following the protest and subsequent riot after the death of Munoz.
Muñoz, who charged at an officer with a knife, was shot and killed in the altercation. Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams later found the officer’s use of force to be justified.
According to the District Attorney’s office:
A group of more than 100 protesters gathered at an access ramp on the west side of the police station in the evening of Sept. 13, moving up the ramp of the building after officers used a public address system to issue several warnings that chemical munitions would be deployed in the crowd.
The group ignored police instructions, and chemical munitions were deployed to disperse them. Individuals began throwing the chemical munitions back at officers, while also tossing water bottles, glass, rocks, bricks, gallon jugs of liquids and parts of plastic road barricades at the line of police on the ramp.
An individual in the group lit an umbrella on fire, placing it in a Lancaster County Detective vehicle and causing a total loss. Others began throwing bricks at the Lancaster police station and post office, breaking windows and damaging a Lancaster Parking Authority vehicle.
A dumpster was also moved to the corner of North Prince and West Chestnut Streets where it was lit on fire by members of the group before police forced the crowd to disperse.
As of this week, all of the individuals charged in the incident from Sept. 13 have had their cases resolved. They include:
- Dylan Davis, 30, of Ephrata, was found guilty by Judge Merrill Spahn on Nov. 7 of riot, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, obstruction of highways, disorderly conduct and dangerous burning. Davis was sentenced to three years probation on Feb. 3 by Judge Spahn.
- T-Jay Fry, 30, of Lancaster, pled guilty to failure to disperse and defiant trespass on Sept. 8. He was ordered to pay fines and court costs.
- Barry Jones III, 32, of York, was found guilty of failure to disperse and sentenced to time served to 12 months in prison plus 25 hours of community service on July 19.
- Talia Gessner, 21, of York, pled guilty to riot, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, obstruction of highways, disorderly conduct, defiant trespass, and dangerous burning on July 14 and was sentenced to time served to 23 months in prison.
- Christopher Vazquez, 33, of Lancaster, pled guilty to two counts of riot, two counts of reckless burning, two counts of disorderly conduct, four counts of institutional vandalism and one count of failure to disperse on May 6 and was sentenced to 52 months to nine years in prison. Vazquez was convicted for destroying two vehicles, smashing windows at the Lancaster police station and downtown post office and causing other damage.
- Jamal Newman Jr., 26, of Lancaster, pled guilty to riot, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, obstruction of highways, disorderly conduct, loitering and prowling at nighttime, defiant trespass and dangerous burning on May 3 and was sentenced to time served to 23 months in prison plus two years probation.
- Yoshua Montague, 26, of York, pled guilty to carrying firearms without a license, riot, criminal conspiracy, failure to disperse, obstruction of highways, disorderly conduct and dangerous burning on Feb. 22, 2022, and was sentenced to 45 days to 23 months in prison plus three years probation.
- Matthew Modderman, 33, of Lancaster, pled no contest to summary disorderly conduct on Nov. 30 and received a $300 fine. Modderman is an employee of LNP | LancasterOnline.
- Kathryn Patterson, 23, of Mercersburg, was sentenced March 30 to 18 months of probation and 100 hours of community service after pleading guilty to charges of failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, defiant trespass and obstruction of highways.
After Lopez’s sentencing, Lancaster Stands Up, the left-wing activist group involved in the 2020 protests, issued its own statement, criticizing the actions of Lancaster Police during the protest and riot and the sentencing of the defendants.
In the statement issued April 5 from the Lancaster Stands Up leadership team, the group said Munoz would still be alive “if an ambulance had arrived before a police car.” The group also said the Sept. 13 protest was provoked by Lancaster City Police “escalating tensions by donning riot gear and deploying tear gas in and around the intersection of Prince and Chestnut Streets.”
“Their actions made a loud, yet peaceful protest, into one that the police and District Attorney Heather Adams could politicize as violent, even if it was their own doing,” Lancaster Stands Up said in its statement.
Lancaster Stands Up said it was “outraged” by the actions of community leaders in the sentencing of Lopez to at least 13 months in prison.
“What began in 2020 as a call to end police violence after the murder of George Floyd has culminated, for now, in the powers that be in Lancaster County coming down on freedom of speech and exculpating the police departments that aimed to punish protesters for calling for accountability and change,” the organization said in its statement.
State Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El (D), whose Lancaster district includes Lopez, spoke in court as a character witness for Lopez. Smith-Wade-El also participated in a press conference on the Old Lancaster County Courthouse steps following the sentencing, flanked by other local activists that included Jonathan Matthew Smucker, founder of Lancaster Stands Up.
Smith-Wade-El said Lopez was taken to prison “immediately, unceremoniously and in tears.” He said Lopez’s mother will be left caring for her four children.
In his defense of protesting, Smith-Wade-El read a portion of a speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. the night before he was assassinated in 1968.
“There is no appropriate venue, there is no suit you can wear, there is no place where you can meaningfully talk about racial and social justice in this country at the scale of the need where you will not be publicly punished, excoriated, maybe even harmed or killed.” Smith-Wade-El said at the press conference. “And people like my friends here, people like Jessica Lopez, they demand we have those conversations anyway. And as someone who has yet to find a way to un-Black himself, I deeply appreciate that there are people who want to stand up for racial justice in this community and in our country.”