SEARCHING FOR SCHAFFER: Attorneys struggling to find local man who pleaded guilty to storming U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6

Jon Schaffer is shown in this Associated Press photo inside the Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

One year after a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to overturn America’s presidential election, a process server was dispatched to a Tipton Lakes residence on the west side of Columbus to find a local man who had participated in the attack.

The process server was tasked with hand-delivering notice to heavy metal guitarist and local resident Jon Schaffer that the District of Columbia was suing him in federal court related to his actions during the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Most of the time, notifying a defendant that legal action is being taken against them is a simple process. But in this case, as the District of Columbia was about to find out, it would prove to be quite difficult.

The events that unfolded in Tipton Lakes this past January were just the beginning of a months-long quest to find Schaffer, who is a former heavy metal musician in the band Iced Earth, and is known to local residents to be living at times in Columbus, Edinburgh and Brown County.

The search, which has involved a “variety of tools and teams of skip tracers, process servers, private investigators and outside counsel,” has led to “at least 25 separate attempts to serve Schaffer at seven different addresses across three different states” — including three residences in the Columbus area.

While nearly 40 other defendants named in the lawsuit had been served as of mid-August, Schaffer was one of just two defendants who had managed to evade process servers and private investigators who had been on his trail for months.

And as the search intensified earlier this year, the District of Columbia approached federal law enforcement officials involved in an ongoing criminal case against Schaffer for “any information the Department of Justice is willing to share as to Schaffer’s present location” but, as of June 30, had not received any indication that the U.S. Attorney’s Office would help.

On May 18, attorneys representing Schaffer in the criminal case filed a joint status report in which they attested that he remained “under the supervision of the District of Columbia Pre-Trial Services Department” and had been “compliant with pre-trial release conditions.”

According to terms of Schaffer’s release, he is required to “notify (the) U.S. Pretrial/Probation Office of any travel outside the State of Indiana.”

Currently, it is unclear if federal law enforcement officials know Schaffer’s whereabouts, if they believe he has violated the terms of his plea agreement or if they plan to provide any information to the District of Columbia in its effort to serve him in the civil lawsuit. The next joint status report in the criminal case is due by Oct. 28.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia declined to comment on the matter, telling The Republic that “we typically do not comment on cases beyond our public filings and statements to the court.”

A nonpartisan organization co-founded by an attorney representing the District of Columbia in the civil lawsuit referred The Republic to a motion the District filed on Aug. 15, requesting authorization to serve Schaffer through alternative means.

As of this past week, there were no records indicating that the motion had been granted or that Schaffer had been served.

Searching in Tipton Lakes

Shortly after 12:30 p.m. this past Jan. 6, a process server made the first attempt on record to locate Schaffer in the Columbus area, focusing on a residence on Timber Ridge Avenue in the Tipton Lakes neighborhood.

Three weeks earlier, the District of Columbia’s attorney general, Karl Racine, had filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C. against Schaffer and other members of two extremist groups, seeking to recover “extraordinary damages and costs” due to the insurrection, including dispatching hundreds of Metropolitan Police Department officers to defend the Capitol against the attack, emergency and medical treatment for at least 65 injured officers, paid leave for officers who could not work due to their injuries, among other costs.

Nearly 1,000 Capitol police officers have required therapy to help them cope with the physical and emotional trauma caused by the events that unfolded during the Jan. 6 attack, the lawsuit states. Many officers still require ongoing therapy.

Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrios and Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes — both of whom are currently facing charges of seditious conspiracy related to the Jan. 6 insurrection — also are among the defendants in the civil action.

Schaffer pleaded guilty in April 2021 to, among other things, breaching the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, armed with bear repellent and obstructing an official proceeding. He was photographed inside the Capitol during the insurrection.

Schaffer was one of the first six insurrectionists to push through the damaged doors of the Capitol and was photographed inside wearing a hat that said, “Oath Keepers Lifetime Member,” with bear spray in his hand, according to the lawsuit.

As part of his guilty plea, Schaffer acknowledged that he is “a founding, lifetime member of the Oath Keepers” and believes that “the federal government has been ‘co-opted’ by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights.” The Oath Keepers is a militia group that recruits current and former military, police and first responders.

By early January of this year, process servers and private investigators across the country had started locating defendants, with “the vast majority” being served by the end of the month.

But efforts to find Schaffer in Tipton Lakes this past January were not successful. Shortly after arriving at the residence on Timber Ridge Avenue, the process server made contact with a woman at the home who said Schaffer did not live there. She declined to provide her name.

Scouring Indiana

The following week, a process server was dispatched to a residence on the northeast side of Fort Wayne after records searches and other information indicated that Schaffer might be found there, according to court records.

Shortly after 9:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, a process server knocked on the door of the residence, but there was no answer. At about the same time, “the server noticed a pickup truck driven by a man who resembled the defendant drive by slowly. However, the truck did not stop and kept going,” according to federal court records.

On Jan. 13, the server noticed two women emerge from the house and approached a woman standing in the door. The woman, who was described in court filings as “terse and even rude,” told the server that she knew Schaffer, but he didn’t live there.

Next, the process server tried to locate Schaffer at an address in Edinburgh on several occasions from Jan. 20 to 27, according to court records. The server described the building as an “old downtown building” with a “store space on the first floor” that “appeared to be vacant,” though “there might be somebody living above the store space.” But nobody answered the door over the course of the week, prompting the server to abandon the search.

In early February, the search returned to Columbus, where a process server attempted to find Schaffer in a trailer in the Heritage Heights mobile home park. However, the trailer “appeared to be vacant,” and neighbors told the server that the trailer’s occupant had moved out the week before and did not resemble Schaffer.

Search heads out of state

By March, the search for Schaffer had led process servers to Florida.

On March 12, a server identified a house just a few miles east of the Orlando International Airport. When he knocked on the door, Schaffer’s mother answered, who told the process server that “Jon did not live here” and that “she was unaware of his whereabouts.”

But by then, the 90-day deadline to serve Schaffer was about to expire. Federal rules allow up to 90 days to serve a defendant or the court must dismiss the action without prejudice, though a judge can authorize extensions if the plaintiff shows “good cause for the failure.”

Two days later, the District of Columbia asked a federal judge for another 90 days to serve Schaffer, telling the judge that it believed Schaffer was “well aware of this action” and was “merely attempting to evade process.” The judge granted the extension and set a deadline of June 13 to serve Schaffer.

At around the same time, the District of Columbia hired a private investigation firm to help locate Schaffer. The firm quickly provided the legal team with additional addresses where he might be found.

The search then headed north to Georgetown, Delaware, a town of around 6,400 located about 90 miles east of the U.S. Capitol. On April 28, a process server spoke to a woman at the property who said Schaffer did not live there. When he attempted to question her further, “she slammed the door in his face,” according to court filings. The process server made four additional attempts to locate Schaffer at the Delaware address over roughly the next month, but to no avail.

By then, the June 13 deadline to serve Schaffer loomed. An attorney representing the District of Columbia contacted the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. On June 3, the attorney “spoke with an assistant U.S. attorney who is handling Schaffer’s criminal action” and “requested any assistance with locating Schaffer that his office was willing and able to provide.”

The assistant U.S. attorney indicated that “his office would consider the request,” according to court records.

Meanwhile, another process server attempted to locate Schaffer in early June at an apartment in Crystal City, Florida, about 65 miles north of Tampa. Over the course of a week, she attempted to find him there three times. During the last attempt, a neighbor told her that she had never seen Schaffer at the residence.

Another lead

On June 9, process servers ran another records search and identified a new potential address for Schaffer that had not appeared in prior searches.

The new address was in a gated mobile home community in Auburndale, Florida, a city of about 17,400 people located roughly halfway between Tampa and Orlando.

The next day, a process server arrived at the mobile home park and found the gate open. She went inside the property and noticed the name “J. Schaffer” written on a callbox and a Jeep and Dodge Charger with Indiana license plates parked outside the mobile home. A title search would later indicate the Schaffer co-owned the trailer.

However, nobody answered the door when she knocked.

On June 11, the process server made another attempt to serve Schaffer at the mobile home, but there was still no response at the door. The process server was able to speak with neighbors, who told her, “if the cars were there, the residents were home.”

Two days later, the District of Columbia requested a 17-day extension to serve Schaffer, stating in court filings that “the District now believes that it has located Schaffer in Auburndale, Florida, and has a reasonably good chance of serving him in the next 17 days.”

The judge granted the request and set a new deadline of June 30 to serve Schaffer. The same day that the judge extended the deadline, a process server made the first of at least five additional attempts to serve Schaffer at the mobile home community. But the Jeep was no longer in the carport.

The process server visited the mobile home community’s leasing office two days later and showed staff a picture of Schaffer. The staff confirmed that the individual in the picture was living in the trailer, adding that “he looks like an old hippie now with lots of tattoos.”

The staff also advised that rent for that trailer’s space had been paid in advance through July.

By the end of June, a team of process servers had spent over eight hours conducting stakeouts near the mobile home, “attempting to find Schaffer leaving,” but without success, according to court filings. Neighbors also identified one of the vehicles as belonging to Schaffer.

Searching for alternatives

After being unable to serve Schaffer by the June 30 deadline, the District of Columbia requested authorization to serve Schaffer by emailing his criminal defense attorneys or publishing notice in The Washington Post.

“The District now believes that Schaffer is hiding from process servers in a mobile home in Auburndale, Florida,” according to court filings. “Since locating that address, the District has attempted service there at least five times, yet Schaffer refuses to answer the door — thereby preventing effective service absent further relief from the court.”

The judge, however, denied the request to serve Schaffer via email, stating that “the court does not consider such method of service to be ‘just and reasonable,’ as it would transform criminal defense counsel into a court-compelled agent of plaintiff.”

The judge also denied the request to serve Schaffer by publishing notice in The Washington Post, ruling that “District of Columbia law does not allow service by publication in cases such as this one” and because the District had not yet attempted to serve him by mail, which is a procedural prerequisite for service by publication.

“Attempting such service may seem futile … but it must be tried before the court can permit any alternative method of service,” the judge states in a July 15 order. But the judge also gave the District an additional 30 days to serve Schaffer.

The District then attempted to serve Schaffer by certified mail on two occasions at the Auburndale mobile home but were returned undeliverable to the District’s counsel.

On Aug. 15, the District of Columbia filed another motion requesting authorization to serve Schaffer via alternative means. This time, the District asked the judge to allow its attorneys to serve Schaffer by publishing notice in The Washington Post or by leaving a copy of the summons and amended complaint on Schaffer’s door and then sending a copy of the same documents via mail to the Auburndale trailer, “where he refuses to answer the door for process servers.”

As of Friday, the request to authorize an alternative method of serving Schaffer was still pending in federal court.

However, only time will tell if or when Schaffer will be served. A federal judge on Friday issued an order to temporarily halt the civil action until the criminal trial against Rhodes, the found of the Oath Keepers, is concluded.