A federal judge on Wednesday slammed D.C. jail officials over the possible mistreatment of accused Capitol rioters in custody, calling for the Justice Department to open a civil rights investigation and holding two officials in contempt of court for delaying medical treatment.
“It’s more than just inept and bureaucratic shuffling of papers,” U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth fumed during a contentious hearing Wednesday about medical delays for accused rioter Christopher Worrell. “Does no one care? Does no one follow up?”
During the hearing, Lamberth said that jail officials failed to turn over critical information that was needed to approve surgery for the accused rioter’s broken wrist—even though the medical procedure was recommended four months ago. The accused Proud Boys member from Florida, who is receiving chemotherapy for cancer, was arrested in March on several charges after allegedly attacking police with pepper spray during the Jan. 6 riots.
“I find that the civil rights of the defendant have been abused,” Lamberth said, adding that he was made aware of the "inexcusable" delay last week and ordered jail officials to turn over notes to the U.S. Marshals Service since Worrell is a federal inmate.
Lamberth said that when he learned the jail still had not sent over the records on Tuesday morning he ordered them to appear in court for a contempt hearing. Deputy Attorney General Chad Copeland confirmed during the hearing that jail officials eventually produced the records Tuesday afternoon.
“It took a court order from me and a threat of contempt to get it approved. Why did that happen? No one at the jail noticed he’s been sitting there in pain this whole time?” Lamberth said.
After the hearing, Lamberth ordered that Wanda Patten, the warden of the D.C. jail, and Quincy Booth, director of the D.C. Department of Corrections, “are in civil contempt of court.” The order also noted that the U.S. Attorney General received a copy of the ruling “for appropriate inquiry into potential civil rights violations of Jan. 6 defendants, as exemplified in this case.”
“I don’t know if it’s because he’s a January 6th defendant or not, but I find this matter should be referred to the attorney general of the United States for a civil rights investigation into whether the D.C. Department of Corrections is violating the civil rights of January 6th defendants...in this and maybe other cases,” Lamberth added in court.
While Worrell did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, his lawyer reiterated his client’s “grave concerns” over access to medical care as he begins his next set of chemotherapy and radiation for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After the hearing, attorney Alex Stavrou said in a statement that he and his client were “pleased” that the judge took their concerns seriously and “pray that the Office of the Attorney General will conduct this inquiry immediately and without prejudice.”
Several accused rioters and their lawyers have alleged mistreatment while detained for their actions on Jan. 6. As of last month, nearly 40 accused rioters were incarcerated in D.C. out of almost 700 awaiting trial.
In a September interview with The Daily Beast, Joseph McBride, the lawyer for Richard ‘Bigo’ Barnett—who posted photos in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office—called the long-troubled jail system in the nation’s capital “DC-GITMO” for its “horrible conditions for those associated with Capital riots.”
He said Wednesday that he filed an Aug. 3 emergency request with Amnesty International and the ACLU to investigate “the mistreatment of January Sixers” being held in D.C. jail. He told The Daily Beast that his request detailing “several instances of abuse” went “unanswered.”
Lawyers for defendants including Proud Boys member Dominic Pezzola have complained in court filings about mistreatment. In a July motion, lawyers for Pezzola, who is accused of smashing a Capitol window with a police shield, said he was kept in his cell for at least 22 hours a day and “access to personal hygiene such as showers is nearly nonexistent.”
“Individuals who are housed in the D.C. Jail, who are accused of committing crimes on January 6, 2021, at The Capitol are treated differently than all other prisoners who are housed in the jail,” Pezzola’s lawyers alleged.
When asked about Lamberth’s fiery outburst on Wednesday, McBride said the judge “validated what my colleagues and I have been screaming for months when he recognized the fact that civil rights abuses are taking place.”
“This is just the tip of the iceberg. America will be brought to tears when the truth about the way January Sixers have been treated during the detention comes out!” McBride added in a text message.