WASHINGTON — A federal judge Tuesday ordered the release from jail pending trial of a man who was photographed with his foot on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, citing an appeals court decision-making it harder to detain riot defendants not accused of violence.
Richard Barnett, 60, of Gravette, Ark., had been denied bond and jailed for nearly four months on charges including obstructing Congress, violent entry into the Capitol while armed with a stun gun and stealing a piece of government mail that he later displayed to media outlets.
Barnett also left a note that prosecutors said included an apparently misspelled expletive and read, “Hey Nancy, Bigo was here, [slur]” though his defense disagrees about what the final word was.
Barnett was arrested on Jan. 8, and Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell of the District of Columbia, upheld his detention on Jan. 28, after he called himself a nationalist prepared for violent death and tried to get rid of his phone, clothes and guns anticipating investigators.
Barnett came to the Capitol “prepared with a weapon and cloaked with entitlement” and “seemed happy to be one of the stars of this revolt,” which would be “destined to go down in the history books in this country” for its brazen disregard for the law and the Constitution, Howell said in her ruling.
On March 26, however, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District Circuit ruled in a case with similar circumstances in favor of a mother and son accused of bringing a stun gun into the Capitol during the riot. Like Barnett, the pair were not accused of other violence and challenged their pretrial detention.
The appeals court panel required judges to spell out the specific future danger posed by otherwise nonviolent defendants or those not involved in planning or coordinating events, saying but for the mob’s presence that day, such people “seemingly would have posed little threat.”
After Barnett filed a new motion for bond, his trial judge said at a hearing Tuesday there did not seem to be “a whole lot of daylight” between the two cases.
U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper warned Barnett against drawing the wrong impression about how the judge might handle sentencing if Barnett pleads guilty or is convicted at trial.
“The notion that the events of Jan. 6 were a legitimate or excusable social protest against ruling elites or worse yet a reaction to some people in society feeling that they have been unfairly scapegoated for racism is, in a word, absurd,” Cooper said.
Still, Cooper said he found the appellate court’s reasoning applied to Barnett, ordering him to conditional home confinement and electronic monitoring.
“Consider this a test,” the judge added.
Barnett’s prosecutor said the sides have discussed the possibility that Barnett could face a recommended prison sentence of six to seven years under federal guidelines based on the charges in his case, although no formal plea offer has yet been extended.
Also Tuesday, a federal judge accepted an apology to the court and said he would not jail a Pennsylvania woman charged in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot for allegedly flouting a release requirement that she wear a mask when leaving her home while on bond.
Facing an order to show why she should not be found in contempt of court, Rachel Marie Powell, 40, of Mercer County, Pa., acknowledged that wearing a mesh mask to a book shop where she works was a bad decision. She also said that she did not do it to mock the court and submitted letters from members of her church congregation who said she is typically seen with an opaque mask to protect those around her.
“The Court is satisfied with the defendant’s show-cause filing. At this time it has no reason to believe that her apology is not genuine and that she will not continue to comply with her conditions of pretrial release,” U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth wrote in a brief order.
Powell has pleaded not guilty to eight counts, including felony destruction of federal property and obstruction of a congressional proceeding after allegedly carrying an ice ax and a large wooden pole into the Capitol while wearing a pink hat and using a bullhorn.