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Lawyer says Gravette man charged in Capitol riot 'tortured' in D.C. jail

by Bill Bowden | August 6, 2021 at 7:02 a.m.
Richard Barnett (Washington County sheriff's office & special to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette/AFP via Getty Images/Saul Loeb)

An Arkansas man held for three months after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot was "tortured" in the District of Columbia jail, according to his attorney.

Richard "Bigo" Barnett, 61, of Gravette was slammed into a concrete floor, threatened, kept in solitary confinement and denied prompt medical treatment when he thought he was having a heart attack, Joseph D. McBride of New York City wrote in an "emergency request" to Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union seeking an investigation into the way Barnett and four other "January Sixers" were treated in the jail.

Barnett is charged with carrying a dangerous weapon -- a stun gun -- into the Capitol during the riot. He also faces six other charges.

On April 27, Barnett was released from the District of Columbia jail and ordered to home detention pending trial.

"My client, Richard Barnett, who did not assault any Capitol Police or destroy any property, was detained by the federal government for 109 days before being released over the objections of the Justice Department since he was neither a danger to society nor risk of flight," McBride wrote in the letter dated Aug. 3. "His crime was putting his feet on one of [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi's desks at the request of a press photographer."

[DOCUMENT: Read the letter alleging torturous conditions at the District of Columbia jail » arkansasonline.com/86dcjail/]

In the letter, McBride called the District of Columbia jail "DC-GITMO," a reference to the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, a U.S. military prison in Cuba.

"Richard spent the entirety of his time at DC-GITMO in solitary confinement enduring disgusting unsanitary conditions that include the presence of black mold inside the cell where he was being held in solitary confinement, as well as beatings, sleep deprivation, getting robbed of his belongings, and various psychological and emotional abuses -- including the denial of timely medical care, and threats toward his wife," wrote McBride. "Barnett filed ten grievances against staff for these offenses, none of them were unanswered, and each one resulted in swift punishment and retaliation by the guards."

After finally getting medical treatment for what might have been a heart attack (he still doesn't know if it was), Barnett was returned to his cell, wrote McBride. A guard came by after Barnett had fallen asleep and pounded on the glass door of his cell.

"This startled Richard so badly that he stood up fast, but because he was still not well, he fainted and hit his head on the sink," according to McBride. "The guard saw this happen and left Richard a second time. Richard woke up with massive swelling and was bleeding from his head. Richard once again found himself screaming for medical attention for almost an hour until help came."

One day, Barnett asked an officer who was in close proximity to wear a mask, which are required in common areas of the jail to help prevent the spread of covid-19, McBride wrote.

"That officer responded by verbally abusing and threatening Richard publicly in front of many witnesses, including family members who heard the commotion on the other end of the phones," according to McBride.

Barnett was ordered back to his cell.

"Richard's cell door opened at some point and a group of approximately nine officers told Richard to exit his cell," McBride wrote. "Richard told them he had done nothing wrong and extended his hands to be cuffed. Richard was cuffed and shackled. He was verbally abused and threatened with mace. The guards jerked Richard back and forth with great force. Richard objected to the way he was being treated. One of the guards yelled 'Take him down!' And in that moment, Richard Barnett ... was lifted off of his feet by his shackles and slammed shoulder and head first into the concrete floor."

The officers accused Barnett of inciting a riot, according to McBride.

Pretrial detainees arrested in the events of Jan. 6 are "regularly being held in solitary confinement for 22 or 23 hours a day," wrote McBride, noting that anything over 22 hours is considered solitary confinement under the United Nations Standard Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, otherwise known as "the Nelson Mandela Rules."

A "previously defunct" part of the jail was reopened specifically to house "January Sixers," according to McBride. They call it the "Patriot Unit."

"To put it mildly the facility is disgusting. Black mold, brown drinking water, and poor ventilation are but a few of the problems with the facility itself," McBride wrote. "The way that staff treats the detainees is brutal and denies them their civil rights. If a detainee speaks up, the guards lock everyone down. If a lawyer speaks out against the jail or the government, the guards lock everyone down. And when the jail really wants to punish, it uses COVID-19 as a cover to lock everyone down for weeks at a time. This means, at best, detainees have one hour each day out of their cells to attend to their personal needs."

A spokeswoman for the jail didn't return a telephone call or email seeking comment Thursday.

Besides Barnett, McBride mentioned four others in the letters who he says were "tortured" in the jail: Edward Jacob Lang of New York state, Scott Fairlamb of New Jersey, Emmanuel Jackson of the District of Columbia and Ryan Samsel of Pennsylvania.

The letter was co-signed by McBride's law partners, Steven A. Metcalf, who represents Lang, and Martin H. Tankleff, who represents Dominic Pezzola, another man charged in the Jan. 6 melee.

In an email Thursday, McBride said he hadn't heard a response from Amnesty International or the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Jan. 6 riot escalated from a "Stop the Steal" rally in which supporters of former President Donald Trump entered the Capitol and attempted to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote indicating that Joe Biden had won the presidential election. Five people died in connection with the riot.

On July 27, while police officers who defended the Capitol testified before the Jan. 6 select committee, six Republican congressmen staged an event a mile away outside the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

The six -- U.S. Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs, both of Arizona; Louie Gohmert of Texas; Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia; Matt Gaetz of Florida; and Bob Good of Virginia -- accused the Justice Department of withholding information about the treatment of the Jan. 6 defendants.

"There are disturbing reports of some of these prisoners are being abused and held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day," Gosar said. "These are not unruly or dangerous violent criminals. These are political prisoners who are now being persecuted."

On Wednesday, District Judge Amy Berman Jackson pushed back against the notion that Jan. 6 defendants being held in jail are political prisoners.

During a sentencing hearing in Washington, D.C., for Karl Dresch of Michigan, Jackson said: "The defendant did not spend six months in jail because he is a political prisoner. He was not prosecuted for his political views. The defendant came to the Capitol because he placed his trust in someone who repaid that trust by lying to him," according to United Press International.

Jackson said Dresch appeared to be confused about the meaning of patriotism, according to The Washington Post: "You called yourself and the others patriots, but that's not patriotism. Patriotism is loyalty to country, loyalty to the Constitution, not loyalty to a single head of state. That's the tyranny we rejected on July 4th of 1776."

Two other Arkansans -- Peter Francis Stager of Conway and Jon Mott of Yellville -- are also charged in the Capitol riot.

Information for this article was contributed by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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