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Despite 'inspiring' immigrant story, former Houston Police officer gets 45 days in jail for Capitol riot

“The day I was on the news my sister in Vietnam called and said the whole village watched me," Tam Dinh Pham told the judge in tears.

WASHINGTON — In what appeared to be a very close call for a federal judge, former Houston Police Officer Tam Dinh Pham was sentenced to 45 days in prison Friday for his conviction on a misdemeanor charge from the January 6 Capitol riot.

“You added an air of legitimacy to what happened that day because you are a police officer,” U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelley told Pham.

Pham told WUSA “no comment” as he walked out of the federal courthouse after his sentencing Friday. He will have to self-surrender in his home state of Texas to serve his prison time.

A request from Pham’s attorney, Nicole Hochglaube, to have Pham spend 45 days in home incarceration instead of prison was denied by Kelley. Hochglaube said they respect the judge's sentence.

“I think the judges have an important responsibility to weigh the sentencing issues, which this judge did,” Hochglaube said. “Mr. Pham is looking forward to serving his sentence and getting it behind him.”

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Pham is seen in photos and videos spending about 20 minutes inside the Capitol during the Capitol riot. Questioned a week later by the FBI, Pham initially lied about being inside the Capitol building. Investigators checked his phone and found pictures taken inside the Capitol in the "deleted photos" folder of his device.

Pham, an 18-year veteran patrol officer with Houston Police, resigned his position shortly after that FBI interview — just two years shy of qualifying for a pension. In court, Hochglaube told the judge the Vietnamese man moved to the U.S. penniless in 1991 and loved the country that helped him build a life and a career.

Pham broke down in tears as he addressed Kelly before sentencing.

“The day I was on the news my sister in Vietnam called and said the whole village watched me. I lost my reputation and my career and brought shame on my family especially my children,” Pham said. “The U.S. has given me so many opportunities. I’m so sorry for what I did.”

Kelly told Pham he strongly considered giving him probation, noting that, overall, he played a minor role in the riot and lost his job and pension as a consequence. But Kelly was bothered by Pham’s seeming unwillingness to take full responsibility for his actions.

Pham repeatedly told the court he “stupidly followed people in the Capitol.”

Kelley said as a police officer, Pham knew he was breaking the law.

“Your immigrant story is inspiring. I have no doubt you love this country,” Kelley said. “But you violated your sworn duties to uphold the Constitution and you added an air of legitimacy to what happened that day because you are a police officer.”

Pham will have to pay $500 in restitution and a $1,000 fine in addition to his prison sentence.

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