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Arkansan in riot case to be held in D.C.

by Bill Bowden | January 16, 2021 at 4:32 a.m.
Richard Barnett (Washington County sheriff's office & special to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette/AFP via Getty Images/Saul Loeb)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Instead of being released from jail today as a federal judge ordered, Richard "Bigo" Barnett will be transferred to the District of Columbia for further legal proceedings.

Barnett, 60, of Gravette, became famous for his foray into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office during the U.S. Capitol riot, where he posed for photographs with his feet on a desk.

He has been in the Washington County jail in Fayetteville since he surrendered to the FBI on Jan. 8.

After a five-hour detention hearing held via Zoom on Friday, Chief Magistrate Judge Erin L. Wiedemann of the federal court for Arkansas' Western District ruled that Barnett could be released if he paid $5,000 bond.

Wiedemann decided to put Barnett under house arrest with a GPS monitor pending trial. He wouldn't be allowed to access the internet or have contact with anyone who participated in the melee at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

"Essentially it's 24-hour-a-day lockdown," said Wiedemann. "I want him locked down in his home."

Wiedemann appointed Barnett's common-law wife, Tammy Newburn, as his third-party custodian. If he violates the rules of his release, she is to report it to the court.

At the end of the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Harris requested a three-day stay of the judge's decision to release Barnett so it could be reviewed by prosecutors in the District of Columbia, but Wiedemann denied the request.

"The motion is denied, as the court believes that the very restrictive conditions of release imposed, including home incarceration and location monitoring, will ensure that the defendant will not pose a flight risk or danger pending any appeal, and that the defendant can easily be taken back into custody should the release order be overturned," the judge wrote in an order.

Then, Friday night, Mary L. Dohrmann, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, filed a motion for an emergency stay of Wiedemann's order along with a motion to have Barnett transferred to Washington for further legal proceedings.

"The defendant is subject to detention pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3142(f)(1)(E) because he is charged with a felony involving a dangerous weapon," wrote Dohrmann in the motion for emergency stay. "In this case, that offense is unlawfully entering and occupying an office inside the United States Capitol restricted for use by a congresswoman while carrying a stun gun. Consequently, the government requests review of the magistrate judge's decision to release the defendant and seeks a further stay of the order from this court."

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell signed the order later that night.

U.S. marshals are to transfer Barnett "forthwith" to the District of Columbia, according to Howell's order.

Barnett became internationally known after a photograph of him with his feet on a desk in Pelosi's office went viral. He faces three federal charges, the most serious one for being in the Capitol with a dangerous weapon (a "stun gun"). He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on that charge, and a maximum sentence of 11.5 years on all three charges.

Five people died at the melee at the Capitol on Jan. 6, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot by police.

One of the charges Barnett faces is for taking something from Pelosi's office. Lawyers for the government described it as a "letter," but Anthony Siano, Barnett's attorney, said it was an "envelope." Barnett is on video saying he left a quarter on the desk for it.

Friends and family painted Barnett as an honest man and a good father. Twice he came to his mother-in-law's aid during medical emergencies, one person testified. He built bonfires for parties and made s'mores for the kids, said a friend of his stepdaughter's.


Barnett's cellphone and guns were recurring topics during the hearing. Harris said Barnett was trying to elude police during his drive home from the District of Columbia.

"He turned off location services on his phone, he paid only in cash, and he covered his face," Harris said in her closing arguments. "He then hurried home and set about removing any items of evidentiary value, including his phone. Make no mistake, by then he knew law enforcement was coming for him."

Investigators have yet to recover the cellphone that Barnett used to record activities in the Capitol on Jan. 6. In photographs, Barnett can be seen carrying a cellphone in the Capitol.

Newburn said she talked to Benton County Sheriff Shawn Holloway the night of Jan. 6, and the sheriff wanted Barnett to call him as soon as he got back from Washington, D.C. Barnett arrived home midafternoon on Jan. 7 and used his stepdaughter's phone to call the sheriff. Barnett agreed to turn himself in at 10 a.m. the next day at the sheriff's office. FBI agents would be waiting for him there.

FBI Special Agent Jonathan Willett said Barnett was known to have guns but there were none at his house when the FBI searched it the night of Jan. 8.

Willett said Barnett told the agents: "If y'all go out there and do a search warrant, you can see all my s*. You ain't going to find nothing out there. I can assure you I'm a smart man."

Agents found the package from a ZAP Hike 'N Strike 950,000 Volt Stun Gun Walking Stick, but they didn't find the gun itself. Based on a receipt from Bass Pro Shop in Rogers, Barnett purchased a stun gun, pepper spray and walky-talkies in late December. Video of him at the cash register shows store employees petting a German shepherd that Barnett has on a leash.

When cross-examined by Harris, Newburn said she didn't know how many guns Barnett had but she and her daughter each had a .380-caliber pistol that he had given them for protection.

"I know he has a Ruger that he carries and maybe a couple of other guns," she said.

Newburn said the guns had been given to a friend of Barnett's. She said they'd been getting threats and she had decided to stay somewhere else for a little while. Newburn said she was afraid someone would break into the house and steal the guns if they left them there.

Newburn said she was worried for Barnett's safety at the rally in Washington, but she didn't ask him to buy a stun gun or take one with him on the trip.


Harris asked why she was concerned if Barnett was just going to Washington to hear President Donald Trump give a speech.

"I actually didn't know what all was going to take place," she said. "I was worried that in a crowd like that that there would be violence. I was afraid that he would get hurt. ... I know in large crowds like that things get out of hand sometimes. We worry about each other if we head out on a two-hour trip. He believes in President Trump and he's a patriot. He believes in us having a free country."

Harris repeatedly asked witnesses for the defense if Barnett had a firing range on his property. They all said no except for Newburn.

"Down in the holler we do have a firing range to practice," she said.

When asked if she supported Barnett's actions on Jan. 6, Newburn said, "I'm not supportive of him in Nancy Pelosi's office necessarily, but I support him supporting our country, and that's what he thought he was doing. I don't support anything that's unlawful."

One of the exhibits for the government is a KNWA television newscast of a "Stop the Steal" rally in Bentonville in November. Those at the rally were protesting the election of Joe Biden as president based on Trump's allegations of voting fraud.

In the footage, Barnett can be heard saying, "Hey, if you don't like it, send somebody after me, but I ain't going down easy."


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