Richard Barnett who posed inside Pelosi’s office is released from D.C. jail
The stun-gun-toting Capitol rioter who famously posed for a photo with his feet on a desk in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office will be released from a Washington, D.C., jail after nearly four months in government custody, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. Richard Barnett, 60, who left a crude and menacing note for Pelosi and stole a piece of her mail, does not present the kind of danger to society that would warrant his pretrial detention, U.S. District Court Judge Christopher Cooper found.
Barnett had been held since January, one of the first arrests made in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Prosecutors say he confronted police while inside the building, egged on the crowd with a bullhorn and celebrated the breach afterward, including in media interviews.
And the judge, to be sure, had harsh words for Barnett’s participation in an event that he said was “deadly serious” and an unmistakable assault on the peaceful transfer of power.
“Jan. 6 was a criminal effort to undermine one of the essential pillars of our democracy,” Cooper said, lamenting that it was perpetrated by “people who were sold and willingly bought a bill of goods that the election was stolen.”
A federal magistrate judge in Arkansas initially approved Barnett’s pretrial release to home confinement, but the chief judge of the District Court in Washington, Beryl Howell, halted and later overturned the release order.
Howell found there were no release conditions that could adequately protect the community from Barnett.
“His entitled behavior that he exhibited in videos and photographs when inside the Capitol show a total disregard for the law, a total disregard for the U.S. Constitution,” said Howell, an appointee of President Barack Obama.
“This violence disrupted a constitutional function of Congress.”
But in the new ruling on Tuesday, Cooper said a recent appeals court decision that tightened the criteria for pretrial detention in Capitol riot cases precluded him from keeping Barnett behind bars.
“It’s not enough that the defendant participated in the Jan. 6 events,” Cooper said.
There are numerous indications that Barnett is a follower of the QAnon conspiracy theory, the judge said, but he found there is no “concrete” reason to consider Barnett more dangerous than many other people who hold similar views.
“The burden faced by the government, clear and convincing evidence, has just not been met in this case, in my view,” Cooper said, addressing the showing required to detain a defendant.
Cooper ordered Barnett into home confinement with GPS monitoring, but said he might be permitted to leave for work, medical and legal appointments and religious observances.
The judge warned Barnett that if he violates the conditions of his release, he may end up back in jail. Cooper also said he’d take any violation into account when sentencing Barnett if he pleads guilty or is convicted at trial.
“Consider this a test, OK?” the judge said.
Barnett faces a felony charge of entering the Capitol with a dangerous weapon, as well as misdemeanor charges of unlawful entry to a restricted building, disorderly conduct and theft.
Barnett’s stint in federal custody has been memorable for several reasons. He famously had an outburst during a previous detention hearing, saying he was being subjected to unfair treatment. And his attorneys have argued that he’s been tormented and mistreated by guards while in the D.C. lockup.
During the Tuesday hearing, Barnett’s attorney, Joseph McBride, said provocative and often disrespectful statements his client made before, during and after the Capitol assault were simply overheated political rhetoric.
“It's pure braggadocio,” McBride said. “He shouldn’t have said it. He has put his foot in his mouth several times.”
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