Over 300 people have been charged with participating in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. While many have been released and are awaiting trial, some of the accused are being held without bond because officials consider them “dangerous,” posing a high risk of obstructing justice or fleeing. Recently, reports of solitary confinement, mental torture, and harsh conditions have come to light, drawing widespread criticism.
‘Cruel and psychologically damaging’ punishment
Reports are surfacing of detainees being kept in restrictive housing and isolated for up to 23 hours a day, punishment that both Democrats and Republicans have found appalling. “Solitary confinement is a form of punishment that is cruel and psychologically damaging… And we’re talking about people who haven’t been convicted of anything yet,” Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren said to Politico.
Although Warren believes that solitary confinement measures may be used under certain circumstances, she stressed that in this case, officials are using the measures to punish and “break them so that they will cooperate.”
Senate Majority Whip Democrat Dick Durbin, an active crusader against solitary confinement, was shocked to learn that Capitol breach defendants were being detained in restrictive housing. He stated that such extreme measures should only be used as a “rare exception” and only when there is “clear justification.”
Lawyers of the defendants have rebuked the isolative actions as unconstitutional. Marty Tankleff, a defense attorney representing two defendants, said, “This is not normal. It’s not normal to isolate people and make them eat on their floor.”
Some of the defendants also claim to have suffered from physical violence. Ryan Samsel, who is charged with attacking officers on Jan. 6, says that he was brutally beaten by two guards at the D.C. Correctional Treatment Facility. One of the officers kicked and punched him while he was on the floor.
According to Samsel’s lawyer, he was admitted to a hospital following the violent attacks and was diagnosed with a fractured orbital floor in his eye socket. He was at risk of becoming permanently blind in his right eye, and has since been transferred to a separate facility.
Ronald Sandlin, one of the defendants, has called his living conditions a form of “mental torture.” At his bail hearing, Sandlin stated, “Myself and others involved in the Jan. 6 incident are scared for their lives, not from each other but from correctional officers.” He revealed that racial tensions were high between the mostly white defendants and the minority guards.
Sandlin said that a 60-year-old man accused of placing his boots on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office was tackled to the ground by guards. One of the guards declared that he hates “all white people” and their “honky religion.”
While many rioters will continue to experience inhumane conditions in detention, critics hope that most defendants will be given light sentences. As of early April, around a quarter of the defendants faced misdemeanors. “My bet is a lot of these cases will get resolved and probably without prison time or jail time,” Erica Hashimoto, former federal public defender and current law professor at Georgetown, said to Politico.
“One of the core values of this country is that we can protest if we disagree with our government. Of course, some protests involve criminal acts, but as long as the people who are trying to express their view do not engage in violence, misdemeanors may be more appropriate than felonies,” she said.
Family to levy Ashli Babbitt lawsuit
Meanwhile, the family members of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot dead while breaking through a door in the Capitol building on Jan. 6, are planning to sue the officer who shot her and the Capitol Police for at least 10 million dollars. In mid-April, federal prosecutors elected not to criminally charge the lethal shooter, whose identity still remains hidden.
The Justice Department cited the fact that Babbitt entered a prohibited area to justify its decision not to pursue criminal charges. Babbitt had served in the United States Air Force for 14 years and was unarmed at the time of the incident.
“A rookie police officer would not have shot this woman… If she committed any crime by going through the window and into the Speaker’s Lobby, it would have been trespassing. Some misdemeanor crime. All a rookie cop would have done is arrest her… We intend to vindicate Ashli’s constitutional rights, which were egregiously violated,” lawyer Terry Roberts, who is representing Babbitt’s family, said to Zenger News.
Jonathan Walker contributed to this report.