WASHINGTON D.C. -- The chief judge of the federal court in Washington scorched Capitol riot suspects during a hearing on Thursday, calling their actions an assault on American democracy and ruling that a man who had bragged about putting his feet on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office should stay in jail as he awaits trial.
"This was not a peaceful protest. Hundreds of people came to Washington D.C. to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power," Chief Judge Beryl Howell of the DC District Court said in the hourlong hearing for Capitol riot defendant Richard Barnett on Thursday.
Howell's remarks are some of the first from a federal district judge over the more than 150 criminal cases that resulted from the siege. Her decision on Barnett also marks the first ruling in an appeal from the Justice Department after a magistrate judge out of Washington denied its request to keep a Capitol riot suspect in jail. At least four others are awaiting rulings from district judges in Washington after appeals.
Howell made clear she believes the crowd was trying to thwart the federal legislative branch from carrying out its duties.
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"We're still living here in Washington D.C. with the consequences of the violence that this defendant is alleged to have participated in," she said.
"Just outside this courthouse ... are visible reminders of the Jan. 6 riot and assault on the Capitol," the judge said, noting that she can see National Guard troops from the window in her chambers in the courthouse.
Barnett is charged with entering the restricted grounds of the Capitol, violent entry and disorderly conduct, and for theft of public property, after he allegedly took a letter from Pelosi's office.
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"The titles of those offenses don't even properly capture the scope of what Mr. Barnett is accused of doing here," Howell said at the hearing.
The judge noted that Barnett had bragged to a reporter that he had written "a nasty note, put my feet up on her desk" in Pelosi's office. Barnett's lawyer says he hadn't seen the report of that quote from his client in The Washington Post.
Barnett's attorney Anthony Siano argued that his client shouldn't continue to be held in detention. And Barnett, speaking up on the conference line during the hearing, said, "I have some very honest and simple explanations. I am a good man."
Barnett has not been arraigned or entered a plea.
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Prosecutors also allege that Barnett carried a stun gun to the Capitol, after buying it days before in preparation for the pro-Trump rally on Jan. 6. After the rally, law enforcement searched his house and found a receipt for the stun gun, but they couldn't find the stun gun he had during the raid, prosecutors said. Barnett had warned them they wouldn't be able to find it.
He had also turned himself in to law enforcement after the riot, though he had made an appointment to do so a day after being in touch with the authorities, prosecutors added.
Barnett has a history of brandishing weapons at rallies, scaring passersby, prosecutors say.
The facts about Barnett "all together makes this court very concerned he poses a danger to the community," Howell said.
He's shown entitlement and disregard for the law, the judge added on Thursday: "Total disregard for the US Constitution."
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