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FBI found 2 phones at Barnett home, not one tied to Capitol

by Bill Bowden | January 24, 2021 at 4:10 a.m.
Richard Barnett (Washington County sheriff’s office & special to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette/AFP via Getty Images/Saul Loeb)

The FBI found two Apple iPhones when they searched the residence of Richard "Bigo" Barnett outside Gravette on Jan. 8.

But they didn't find the phone they really wanted -- the one Barnett had with him when he entered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and posed for pictures with his feet propped up on a desk.

Search warrant documents unsealed Thursday in federal court in Fayetteville indicate that the FBI believes Barnett's cellphone was used during the commission of a crime and may have evidence of that crime on it.

But when Barnett reported to the Benton County sheriff's office on Jan. 8 to turn himself in, he told agents he didn't have his phone on him.

"He also commented that the agents may not find much at his house because he had people packing it up the night before," according to a redacted search warrant affidavit that was unsealed Thursday.

During a Jan. 15 detention hearing in federal court in Fayetteville, FBI Special Agent Jonathan 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 assure you I'm a smart man. There's not anything there."

Willett said video and photographs from the Capitol on Jan. 6 showed images of Barnett using a smartphone.

"The video showed clearly that he had a cellphone that he was either talking on or recording and using in the Capitol building," Willett said during the detention hearing. "The photos showed him having a cellphone in his hand."

In the photographs, Barnett's phone appeared to be black. In a search warrant document, the FBI referred to the two iPhones found at Barnett's residence as "pink," but Apple calls the color "red."

After the Jan. 15 hearing, Chief Magistrate Judge Erin L. Wiedemann ruled that Barnett could be released on $5,000 bond to house arrest.

But prosecutors in the District of Columbia acted quickly to get a judge there to sign an order that night having the case transferred immediately to Washington instead.

Barnett remains in federal custody, and he is no longer in the Washington County jail in Fayetteville, where he was held from Jan. 8 to Jan. 20.

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, one of which concerns Barnett taking a letter or envelope from Pelosi's office.

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.

The whereabouts of Barnett's phone, along with his guns (including the stun gun), were recurring themes during the Jan. 15 detention hearing.

"He turned off location services on his phone, he paid only in cash, and he covered his face," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Harris told Wiedemann. "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."

During the hearing, Tammy Newburn, Barnett's wife, 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, arranging to surrenders at 10 a.m. the next day.

Although it's not mentioned in the documents unsealed Thursday, FBI agents reported finding the package from a ZAP Hike 'N Strike 950,000 Volt Stun Gun Walking Stick when they searched Barnett's residence on Jan. 8, but they didn't find the gun itself.

On Jan. 11, the FBI received a tip that Barnett was carrying a stun gun in the Capitol. Photographs indicated that the tip was correct, so prosecutors filed an amended complaint against Barnett on Jan. 12 to indicate that he had a "dangerous weapon" while in the Capitol, according to authorities.

Based on a receipt from Bass Pro Shop in Rogers, Barnett purchased a stun gun, pepper spray and walky-talkies in late December, agents testified during the detention hearing.

According to one of the unsealed search warrant documents, other items inventoried at Barnett's home included three tablet computers, a Walmart receipt, a Nighthawk Custom hat and an Anchorage Expedition jacket.

Nighthawk Custom is a gun manufacturer based in Berryville.

During the Jan. 15 detention hearing, Newburn said all the guns in the house had been given to a friend because she didn't want them in the house while she was staying somewhere else for a few days because of threats she had received.

Harris asked if that same friend also had Barnett's cellphone, and Newburn said she didn't know.

Also on Jan. 15, Harris applied for a search warrant, and it was executed that same day. The warrant details are under seal and are scheduled to be unsealed Thursday, according to a filing in federal court in Fayetteville.

Newburn said she didn't know Barnett had turned location services off on his phone before driving back from Washington, D.C.

She said she didn't "have contact" with Barnett during his drive home.

Newburn said she did receive two videos from Barnett, immediately after the Capitol incident.

"There's a video on my cellphone of him going into the building, of what happened and how he was pushed into the building," she said. "He sent it to me right after it all happened."

Newburn said she showed the video to the FBI.

The other video, said Newburn, was of a "toddler playing in the grass."


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