Cua’s bond hearing unfolded over testimony Wednesday and Friday, and featured starkly differing portrayals of the young man.
Cua’s attorneys argued that he was an impressionable boy who reveled in social media bravado, and simply got swept up in the melee.
“He was scared,” defense attorney J. Tom Morgan said of Cua’s actions roaming the Capitol. “Look at our client. He’s 140 pounds. He couldn’t shove his way out of a paper bag.”
Morgan said Cua was “a kid who needs to go home.”
DOCUMENT: FIRST CHARGES AGAINST BRUNO CUA
This document describes the first five charges brought against 18-year-old Milton resident Bruno Cua, who is accused of taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. More charges are expected to be filed.
But testimony that Cua’s parents drove the teen to Washington to attend former President Donald Trump’s “Save America” rally, which preceded the riot, troubled Chief Magistrate Judge Alan Baverman.
Baverman said Cua’s parents demonstrated no parental oversight and could not be trusted to oversee their son’s release.
“I rejected custodians far less involved in the criminal conduct of the defendant,” Baverman said.
Baverman was also unpersuaded by testimony from Cua’s father, Joseph Cua, that he was misled by Trump and embarrassed that he believed Trump’s claims of a stolen election.
“We believed the people,” Cua said, naming Trump and Lin Wood, the Atlanta-based attorney and Trump supporter who has peddled conspiracy theories. “There was no big reveal.”
Against the description of a wayward teen, prosecutors countered with evidence showing that Cua was planning and talking about violence weeks before the riot, and documented his clash with a federal officer inside the Capitol on film.
Cua was also photographed marauding the Capitol hallways twirling an aluminum baton, and kicking at least one closed door.
“I don’t believe I can overstate the seriousness” of the charges, said prosecutor Ryan Buchanan.
In the FBI's criminal complaint against 18-year-old Bruno Cua of Milton, Cua is identified in a U.S. Capitol surveillance video swinging what appears to be a baton.
After the election, Cua talked online about buying an AR-15 assault-style rifle under the table, prosecutors said. On Dec. 13, he said he thought there was going to be a war, according to social media posts.
On Dec. 14, he wrote that “I don’t want to sit in Georgia and watch. I want to fight.”
On Dec. 22, he wrote, referring to Jan. 6, according to Buchanan, “It could be one of the most important days in American history.”
On Dec. 30, he wrote that “we just have to take back what’s ours.”
Then, in a Jan. 6 direct message on social media, he wrote: “We didn’t attack American people. We attacked the swamp rats.” He acknowledged that he screamed at cops to join the insurrection. He said he would lay down his life for Trump. He wrote that he wanted to “lock the swamp rat tyrants in the capitol and burn the place to the ground.”
“We have a pattern of escalating danger,” Buchanan told Judge Baverman. “As early as Dec. 22, he’s already talking about storming the Capitol.”
The FBI's criminal complaint against 18-year-old Bruno Cua includes these social media posts, where Cua says that he is movitated by President Trump to "fight" on Jan. 6 and "take our freedom back the old fashioned way."
Joseph Cua testified that the family drove to Washington, D.C., Jan. 5 to participate in the “Save America” rally headlined and orchestrated by Trump the following day.
After Trump’s speech, the elder Cua said the family walked toward the Capitol but decided to stand back as people began climbing scaffolding and pushing and shoving law enforcement.
Joseph Cua said his son wanted to get a closer look by climbing the observation deck put in place for the inauguration. He was soon lost him in the crowd.
Time-stamped video shot by a New Yorker reporter shows that Cua was on the Senate floor at about 4:21 p.m. A few minutes later, he can be heard shouting, “They can steal an election, but we can’t sit in their chairs?”
Bruno Cua, 18, of Milton, has been charged by the FBI with five counts related to the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol Building.
Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office
Credit: U.S. Attorney's Office
Cua’s defense team presented dozens of letters from friends and acquaintances attesting to Cua’s character, including one from and FBI agent. Attorney Molly Parmer said Cua had no ties to extremist groups, and that he didn’t have a lengthy criminal record.
About his son’s social media posts, Joseph Cua said his son was “parroting a lot of rhetoric he hears online. As a teenager, he believed a lot of things.”
These images were posted on the Twitter account of Huffington Post senior justice reporter Ryan J. Reilly. The company that installed the sign has confirmed that the display was put up in Milton as a show of support for him, but the company has since distanced itself from the display.
Buchanan, however, told the court that Cua had a history of belligerent behavior. He said the government has letters from people who allege Cua terrorized and harassed people in his neighborhood going back years.
In one incident, according to Buchanan, Cua allegedly tailgated a person with political stickers supporting Democrats while blaring his air horn and flashing his lights. Then he cut the other driver off. On the stand, Joseph Cua dismissed the neighbors as “a bit spiteful.”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution learned of another incident Dec. 8 when Cua sped around the parking lot of Birmingham Falls Elementary School in a pickup flying a large Trump flag. His father filmed him, as Cua’s younger brother and friends watched. According to the police, the air horn violated the city’s ordinance against public disturbances, and he was issued a citation.
On Jan. 3, two days before Cua and his parents drove to Washington, Cua was cited with a warning for trespassing in Milton’s White Columns subdivision. The subdivision’s security guard said Cua jumped the gate and was “disrespectful and using profanity” when confronted by the homeowners association president.
Cua was arrested by the FBI Feb. 5 when he went to pay the citation for the public disturbance incident.
On Wednesday, Cua arrived for this first appearance in federal court dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackled at the ankles and wrists. After he was seated, he turned to look at his parents and appeared to chat with his mother.
”Sorry, you’re going to have to turn around,” a court marshal said. “You can’t talk to them.”
Both parents wrapped their hands around their arms, miming a hug.
As he was handcuffed and led from the courtroom Friday, Cua stifled tears.
“Mom, I love you,” he said.
11/05/2020 — Atlanta, Georgia — Bruno Cua unfurls a large Trump flag during a rally in the parking lot at the Georgia Republican Party headquarters in Buckhead on Thursday, November 5, 2020. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
Credit: Alyssa Pointer
Credit: Alyssa Pointer