Oct 3, 2022

Illegal Detainment, Bail Denial, and Alleged Abuse: What We Know About January 6 Prisoners

The circumstances of January 6 detainees shed light on the profound lack of accountability in our nation’s capital. America ignores the ongoing subversion of justice at its own peril.
Illegal Detainment, Bail Denial, and Alleged Abuse: What We Know About January 6 Prisoners

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Since the unrest at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, hundreds of Donald Trump supporters have been arrested for allegedly threatening the certification of the 2020 election.

As one of the largest criminal investigations in American history for an event with glaring political overtones, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) efforts have not been immune to partisan influence. Our extensive report details the radical methods of prosecutors, politicized jury pools, and unsympathetic district judges that create a no-win situation for many January 6 defendants. While most of them aren't in prison, some have been unreasonably denied bail or illegally held without trial under inhumane conditions. The full scale of these abuses is unknown.

Like most controversies surrounding the Capitol incident, information on these detainees is shrouded in rumor and complexity. Left-wing media coverage at the national level is as unreliable as its track record on politically charged stories would suggest, and many right-wing outlets either remain silent or have biases of their own. Drawing from the widest array of reputable sources and corroborated facts, here's what we’ve found.

Violations of pretrial rights

In-depth reporting by Politico revealed that the sheer number of January 6 cases in federal courts has put a strain on the justice system, causing even some in government to voice concerns. Due to these procedural difficulties, the rights of prisoners to receive charges and a trial within a proper time frame have admittedly been denied.

Lucas Denney was arrested in December 2021 based on a criminal complaint for his actions on January 6. Under the Speedy Trial Act, the prosecution was required to file at least one charge within 30 days. He was imprisoned for 85 days before a grand jury indicted him. While admitting that their delay broke the law, federal prosecutors claimed, ''there is no evidence of bad faith, a pattern of neglect, or something more than an isolated incident that resulted from a number of unfortunate factors.''

One court's treatment of defendant Ethan Nordean, however, revealed deliberate intent. After being arrested in February 2021, charged, and released, prosecutors petitioned for Nordean's detainment until he was jailed again. With no prior criminal record, he has spent over a year in prison, mostly in solitary confinement.

As the DOJ's growing caseload delayed Nordean's trial, Judge Timothy Kelly pushed the limits of the Speedy Trial Act 13 times by granting more time to gather evidence. Throughout those months, Nordean's lawyers demanded his release and were repeatedly denied.

Early this year, Nordean's trial had been set for May 18, but the DOJ continued to take on new January 6 cases and motioned for another delay. Judge Kelly not only granted it but also neglected to set a new trial date, prolonging Nordean's detainment indefinitely.

When the defense objected, Kelly admitted to them that he wasn't concerned about breaking federal or constitutional law: ''[How] long past May 18 the trial can wait before [Nordean's] statutory or constitutional speedy trial rights are violated is a question the Court need not resolve to grant the Government's motion.'' When the DOJ requested that the trial be held after the House's January 6 Committee hearings, Kelly pushed it to December.

Arrests and charges for the events of January 6 show no signs of stopping. The DOJ is ignoring direct warnings of how the system is affected by their methods, resulting in a denial of constitutional rights to an unknown number of defendants.

No bail for low-level offenses

As shown by our analysis, the DOJ and much of the justice system refuse to properly assess the actions and motives of individual January 6 defendants. The behavior of nonviolent protesters who cooperated with police is regarded as "terrorism," no matter how mild or unrelated to that of rioters. The trend continues beyond the courtroom, where Trump supporters are harshly detained based on vague assumptions that they are a threat.

After attending Trump's speech, New Jersey man Timothy Hale entered the Capitol building through open doors and remained inside for about 40 minutes. He carried a Trump flag, protested with others, interacted peacefully with police, and did not carry a weapon or threaten anyone. He was later charged for his actions with four nonviolent misdemeanors and a nonviolent felony.

When Hale, an army reservist, requested to be released before trial, prosecutors motioned against it. ''[Hale] poses a substantial risk of danger to the community if he is released,'' they told the court. While he had no prior criminal record, the government based its claim on his history of distasteful personal behavior, including racist statements and a vague desire for "civil war." For his radicalism alone, Hale was kept in prison from the day of his arrest on January 15, 2021, until May 27, 2022,  when he was found guilty on all counts by a jury and detained again.

In its analysis of January 6 defendants, fact-checking site Verify interviewed a former federal prosecutor who explained a motive behind the DOJ's methods: ''The biggest reason why federal prosecutors want to hold someone without bail is that it's much easier to get a plea agreement and a deal when someone's already in federal prison. It's very difficult, especially for someone who has no criminal history, to sign that plea agreement and agree to surrender and go to federal prison. So, some of it is actually 'danger to the community,' but some of it is actually strategy and tactics to get folks to plead guilty."

Likewise, some are unwilling to endure the court's treatment until trial. For Jacob Chansley, the famous ''QAnon shaman,'' it was enough to effectively leverage the case in the government's favor.

On January 6, Chansley and others were seen on video with police, who gave them explicit permission to remain in the Capitol building. ''This has to be peaceful!'' Chansley yelled to the crowd. ''We have the right to peacefully assemble!'' He did not threaten anyone or damage any property, and no attempt was made to arrest him that day.

Chansley was later charged with low-level offenses for his actions at the protests. After being arrested and pleading not guilty on all counts, Chansley was held in federal prison for over 300 days, most of which were spent in solitary confinement.

Despite Chansley having no prior criminal record, judges repeatedly denied his release as they and the government argued that he was dangerous. Magistrate Judge Deborah Fine claimed that Chansley was ''willing to participate in the violent disruption of the work of our government.'' Judge Royce Lamberth worried that Chansley ''would have the opportunity to again attempt to disrupt the United States government or harm members of Congress'' if released. “Violent entry and disorderly conduct in a Capitol building,” a misdemeanor, was the only allegation of violence against Chansley. Lamberth attempted to prove Chansley was violent by pointing to the fact that the flagpole he carried into the Capitol had a spear-like tip, though he was never officially charged with carrying a weapon.

Chansley later claimed to have suffered starvation, isolation, and depression while in solitary confinement. After months of maintaining his innocence, he gave in and reached a plea deal with the DOJ in September, unwilling to prolong the process. The government labeled his actions at the Capitol "domestic terrorism" as he was sentenced to several more months in prison.

The ''Patriot Wing''

Federal prisons in Washington, D.C., have a reputation for inhumane conditions, including sewage problems, substandard food, and COVID-19 restrictions that kept inmates in strict isolation for over a year. However, the treatment of January 6 prisoners is uniquely harsh in ways that have drawn attention from all sides.

D.C.'s Correctional Treatment Facility has reserved an area specifically for January 6 detainees. Presumably for their ''own safety and security,'' dozens were ordered into "restrictive housing" and have been in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day since at least April 2021. The location is known as C2B or the ''Patriot Wing.''

Members of Congress across the aisle expressed concern for the decision, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who feared that solitary confinement was intended to ''break'' January 6 defendants ''so that they will cooperate'' with prosecutors.

Additionally, inmates and defense lawyers testified in court last year of a "pattern of abuse" toward January 6 defendants. "It is targeted. It is ruthless. It is nonstop," said an attorney for inmate Richard Barnett. On one occasion, Barnett was allegedly tackled to the ground by guards as one of them said, "I hate all white people and your honky religion."

Inmate Ryan Samsel, after complaining of a lack of toilet paper, was allegedly zip-tied, moved away from security cameras, and severely beaten by guards. His lawyer later visited him and confirmed, "He has two black eyes… all the skin is ripped off both wrists, which shows how tight the zip ties were. Other inmates said his face looked like a tomato that was stomped on." Left with a detached retina and partial blindness, Samsel was transferred out of the D.C. prison.

Statements made outside of court offer possible explanations for the tense environment. A letter published online from January 6 prisoner Nathan DeGrave claims that C2B's guards ''are mostly liberal migrants from Africa who have been conditioned to hate'' them. While DeGrave's credibility is disputed, Republicans in Congress who visited C2B also described discriminatory treatment. They claimed that black nationalist texts were given to January 6 inmates ''telling them they are evil because of the color of their skin and that America is a terrible country.''

The abuse in C2B appears to be not only physical but systemic. In October, Judge Lamberth ruled that prison officials had violated the constitutional rights of inmate Christopher Worrel by denying him access to medical care. Since his arrest in March 2021, Worrel had not received treatment for his cancer and had broken his hand while in custody. These were ignored by prison officials until Lamberth held them in contempt and ordered a civil rights investigation into the entire prison. The inspection revealed ''deplorable'' conditions overall, leading to a transferral of nearly 400 inmates including Worrel, who was reportedly still in poor health months later.

Nevertheless, January 6 defendants are reportedly still being held under inhumane conditions in the “Patriot Wing” as of last month.

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