A Republican member of the Maryland State Board of Elections was arrested by federal authorities this week and charged for his alleged role in the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Department of Justice has announced.
Carlos Ayala, 52, of Salisbury, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in the District of Columbia with civil disorder, a felony. Ayala has also been charged with related misdemeanor offenses.
He resigned from the Board of Elections on Thursday morning.
Ayala, who was confirmed to the state board last spring, was arrested Tuesday by the FBI in Maryland and made an initial appearance in the District of Columbia, according to court records. He was released on personal recognizance and must ask for permission to leave the state of Maryland pending trial. He cannot possess firearms while out on bail.
Ayala is being represented by James Trusty, a former attorney for Donald Trump. Trusty declined to comment on Thursday morning.
According to allegations contained in a 13-page charging document, Ayala was identified as being part of a group of rioters illegally gathered on restricted Capitol grounds near the scaffolding erected for the inauguration of then-President-elect Biden, which was scheduled for Jan. 20, 2021. Federal officials say Ayala wore a sweatshirt hood cinched tightly around his head, a grey 3M-style painter’s mask with large filters on each cheek, and, at times, carried a distinctive black and white flag affixed to a PVC pipe flagpole bearing the words “We the People” and “DEFEND.” An image of an M-16-style rifle was featured prominently on the flag.
The Justice Department said Ayala is seen on video footage climbing over police barricades and making his way to the Upper West Terrace of the Capitol as rioters overran the police lines on the stairs adjacent to the scaffolding. Ayala then moved toward the front of the crowd gathered outside a door on the Senate side of the Capitol. Security footage from inside the Capitol, near the Senate side door, allegedly shows Ayala waving his flag inside one of the windows next to the door.
Although a U.S. Capitol Police officer motioned Ayala away from the window, Ayala allegedly then moved toward the Senate Wing door, which had been previously breached by rioters and where officers had erected a makeshift barricade. Video footage taken from inside the Capitol building shows a rioter positioned to the right side of the Senate wing door, the same area where Ayala was present, jabbing a flag and flagpole at a Capitol Police officer. The officer then grabbed the flagpole and pulled the flag into the building to prevent the rioter from knocking the officer’s shield away or injuring other officers.
Court documents state that the flag matched the description of Ayala’s flag, which he was holding moments before.
Minutes later, body-worn camera footage shows that Ayala paced in front of officers who had assembled on the Upper West Terrace to clear rioters from the area, the charging document contends. Ayala walked the length of the police line, gestured at the officers, and said, “Join us!”
The alleged crimes Ayala is accused of include knowingly entering a restricted building, impeding the orderly conduct of government business, disorderly conduct in a Capitol building, and obstructing federal law enforcement authorities during civil disorder.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and the Department of Justice National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section, and the DOJ said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Maryland provided “valuable assistance.”
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s Baltimore and Washington field offices, with “valuable assistance” from the U.S. Capitol Police and the Metropolitan Police Department.
Ayala was appointed to the state Board of Elections last year by Gov. Wes Moore (D) following a recommendation by the Maryland Republican Party, and won state Senate confirmation after the governor rejected one GOP pick for the board and the Senate turned down another.
Moore rejected the state GOP’s nomination of William T. Newton last year, asserting that the frequent Republican candidate did “not meet our internal vetting standards.”
The governor cited Newton’s rejection of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election and a guilty plea involving “a crime of moral turpitude.”
Newton pleaded guilty in 2019 to charges of misdemeanor embezzlement in a case involving his mother. Newton was sentenced to probation before judgment contingent on paying $16,495 in restitution in installments of $100 per month.
The Senate last year also voted against the nomination of Christine McCloud, a Howard County hypnotherapist whose election experience was limited to working for one candidate at a poll in the 2022 election.
Ayala was serving a four-year term on the elections board, due to expire in 2027. Moore will nominate the next Republican board member, who will be recommended by the state GOP. With Moore as governor, Democrats hold a 3-2 advantage on the elections board.
In a statement Thursday morning, Michael G. Summers, the board chair, said he accepted Ayala’s “immediate resignation.”
“The Board is committed to maintaining the security and integrity of our elections in Maryland in a nonpartisan manner,” Summers said. “The State Board will remain steadfast in our election process and serve as a trusted source of information for all Marylanders during this presidential election year.”
In a statement provided to Maryland Matters Thursday, Maryland Republican Chair Nicole Beus Harris, who will recommend a new nominee to Moore to serve on the board, noted that Ayala is “innocent until proven guilty.”
“The MDGOP believes in the 1st Amendment and in the American principle that one is innocent until proven guilty,” she said. “That said, Mr. Ayala did choose to resign because he believes that the 2024 elections process and the State Board of Elections is extremely important and should not be muddied with distraction.”
Calls for reform
Ayala’s arrest is already prompting calls for more scrutiny on how the elections board operates and how its members are chosen.
In an interview, Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery), who has made elections oversight a key part of her legislative portfolio, said she knew and liked Ayala from her dealings with board members.
“I am shocked and devastated that someone we entrusted to protect our democracy and our elections was part of one of the worst chapters in American history, which was an attack on our democracy through the insurrection on the Capitol,” she said.
Kagan said that while the Maryland Republican Party “is led by extremists,” she expressed hope that the state GOP “will nominate someone who is thoughtful, collaborative and committed to free, safe and accurate elections.”
Common Cause Maryland, the government watchdog organization, called Ayala’s arrest “a wake up call” and suggested that, following the 2024 election, the General Assembly should consider changing the way elections board members are appointed.
“It is sickening to think that Ayala was making decisions about our elections after allegedly participating in the attempted insurrection,” said Morgan Drayton, policy and engagement manager at Common Cause Maryland, said in a statement. “His disrespect for the voices of Maryland voters and his disregard for the peaceful transfer of power stands in direct contrast to the duties of the Board of Elections.”
In a post to X, formerly known as Twitter, state Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), the vice chair of the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, called Ayala’s arrest “shocking.”
“We’ll be looking at preventing this from happening in the future,” he wrote.
The senator, one of the most probing members of the Executive Nominations Committee, said lawmakers spent the day considering whether new laws or regulations are needed. Ultimately, Lam said, the current Senate confirmation process provides lawmakers with great flexibility to probe nominees to state boards.
“That flexibility may be what’s needed to tease these issues out,” he said, noting that it was incumbent upon all members of the panel to take their responsibility to heart and ask tough questions.
Even so, “I’m not sure how we as a committee could have gotten to the bottom of this quicker than the Department of Justice,” Lam said.
According to a report on Ayala’s arrest from WBOC-TV in Salisbury Wednesday night, Ayala is a former vice president at Perdue Farms in Salisbury whose mother was married to Frank Perdue, the former president and CEO of Perdue Farms, in the late 1980s.
Ayala was also one of five members of the Administrative Charging Committee of the Law Enforcement Review Board of Wicomico County. County Administrator Bunky Luffman told Maryland Matters Thursday morning that Ayala had also resigned from that post. Luffman said Ayala was appointed to that position by the county’s Police Accountability Board, not by County Executive Julie Giordano (R).
The DOJ said this week that more than 1,265 individuals have been charged in nearly all 50 states for crimes related to the breach of the U.S. Capitol, including more than 440 individuals charged with assaulting or impeding law enforcement, a felony. Multiple investigations are continuing.
By Josh Kurtz
This breaking news story has been updated and will continue to be updated throughout the day. Danielle E. Gaines, William J. Ford and Bryan P. Sears contributed to this report.