Many of the more than 400 people who have been criminally charged following the events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 have been denied bail–and now some are alleging psychological abuse and even physical beatings at the hands of prison guards in D.C. jails. As they await trial, they are getting support from unlikely allies–some of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate.
Earlier this month, Ronald Sandlin, who was among the first to enter the Capitol building on January 6, alleged that he and his fellow inmates have been subject to verbal abuse and physical violence at the hands of prison guards. Sandlin has said he spends 23 hours every day in solitary confinement and alleged that prison guards had hurled insults at him, such as “I hate all white people and your honky religion.” During a bail hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, Mr. Sandlin described how another inmate, Ryan Samsel, “was severely beaten by correctional officers, [is now] blind in one eye, has a skull fracture and a detached retina.” He also spoke more generally, saying that “myself and others involved in the January 6 incident are scared for their lives, not from each other but from correctional officers.”
Steven Metcalf, a defense attorney for Mr. Samsel, confirmed Sandlin’s account of Samsel’s treatment in prison, describing how “all the skin is ripped off both [his] wrists, which shows the zip ties and how tight they were… other inmates said his face looked like a tomato that was stomped on.” Metcalf also pointed out that “All of these guys are still [in] pretrial detention; they have not been convicted of any crimes. And this is what they’ve been forced to endure.”
In response to the accusations, the D.C. Department of Corrections issued a statement saying that the jail “takes the safety and well-being of all residents, staff, and contractors extremely seriously.” The FBI, which has taken the lead in many January 6 cases, said through a spokeswoman that the bureau “is aware of the allegations” but “can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.”
While the mainstream media have largely ignored the treatment of January 6 defendants, their cause has won support from an unlikely source – far-left Democrat Senators Elizabeth Warren (M.A.) and Dick Durbin (I.L.). Remarkably, both have publicly objected to the prolonged detention and potential mistreatment of the January 6 defendants. Warren pointed out that “we’re talking about people who haven’t been convicted of anything yet” and expressed concern that some government officials may be trying to “break them so that they will cooperate.” Durbin, meanwhile, said there should be “clear justification” for the type of treatment being described by the detainees,” and that such harsh treatment should only be applied “in very limited circumstances.”
Senators Warren and Durbin undoubtedly have at least some additional agenda in raising the alarm; both have been outspoken advocates for criminal justice reform, including the reduction or outright elimination of solitary confinement and other maximum-security protocols. Nevertheless, the fact that two Democrat lawmakers are the only ones willing to speak out on behalf of incarcerated Trump supporters is an extraordinary example of intellectual honesty and consistency in a capital city bitterly divided in the wake of the events on January 6.
Critics have pointed out that the denial of bail to January 6 defendants contrasts sharply with the dangerous “bail reform” policies recently implemented in many Democrat cities and states across the country, which releases hardened criminals, including potentially violent ones, back onto the streets as they await trial.
Jessica Watkins, an Ohio woman who participated in the January 6th incident but was not charged with assault or having damaged or stolen any property, was denied bail by a federal district court in D.C. to “ensure the safety of the community.” Contrast Watkins’ treatment to the case of 16-year-old Jordon Benjamin, who was charged with felony assault of another man on Christmas Eve this past December in New York City. Benjamin already had a prior charge for manslaughter but was still released without having to post bail. Objectively, it is unclear how Watkins, who violated the law but was not charged with any sort of violent act, poses such a great risk to the community that she was denied bail, but Benjamin can be released almost immediately with impunity.
Some defendants are still seeking home detention until their trial, while others have argued for a transfer to another facility outside of Washington. Jacob Chansley, who gained notoriety as the so-called “QAnon Shaman,” was transferred to a prison in Alexandria, Virginia, after the D.C. jail he was initially held in said it could not supply the organic food required by Chansely’s spiritual beliefs. Other federal district court judges have also become more involved in the January 6 cases, including Judge Emmet Sullivan, the same judge who oversaw the case of former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. In one instance, following a meeting with the D.C. Department of corrections officials, Sullivan encouraged the attorney of one defendant to seek confinement in Georgia rather than D.C.
The first trial of a January 6 defendant is set to begin on May 10. Hopefully, the government will uphold its Constitutional duty to ensure all defendants are kept safe as they await trial.
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