Judge blocks release of man pictured with feet on desk in Pelosi’s office
An Arkansas man who became one of the most recognized figures in last week’s Capitol riot after being photographed propping his feet up on a desk in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office won an order Friday releasing him to house arrest, only to have that ruling overturned hours later.
Following a five-hour hearing Friday afternoon in Arkansas, Richard Barnett, 60, got the permission of a magistrate judge to return home to await trial on charges of entering Capitol grounds with a stun-gun, disorderly conduct and theft.
After Fayetteville, Ark.-based U.S. Magistrate Judge Erin Weidemann announced she planned to release Barnett on “very, very restrictive conditions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Harris asked that Barnett’s release be delayed for three days so that lawyers from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington could appeal the decision.
Soon after the court session, Weidemann issued a brief order denying the stay. She said she was confident Barnett could “easily be taken back into custody should the release order be overturned.”
Prosecutors in Washington immediately filed an emergency appeal and, after 10 p.m. Friday, Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell blocked Barrett’s release. She also granted prosecutors’ request that Barrett be moved from an Arkansas jail to Washington for a new bail hearing next week.
Howell did not offer a rationale for either order. Both were issued without any recorded input from Barrett’s defense lawyer, Anthony Siano. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday night.
During the unusually lengthy detention hearing earlier in Arkansas, prosecutors presented Barnett as a dangerous person who had acted deceitfully following the events at the Capitol by turning off the location services on his cell phone, paying only cash and covering his face.
Harris said Barnett had made “a mockery of [Pelosi] and her office.” The prosecutor also said that in the various images of Barnett in the Capitol he seemed to “very much enjoy this moment of fame.”
Prosecutors also played video of Barnett buying a stun-gun, walkie-talkies and pepper spray at a Bass Sporting Goods store in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve. They said his cell phone and the stun gun have not been found, suggesting repeatedly during the hearing that he ditched them in a bid to hide incriminating evidence.
Siano countered by calling seven witnesses to testify to Barnett’s good character and honesty.
One unusual aspect of the session was that the judge heard testimony not only about the threat Barnett would or would not pose to the community, but also about a slew of threats he and his family received after his image went viral following the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump crowd on Jan. 6.
“There has been a bounty put out on this defendant,” Harris said.
Barnett’s longtime partner, Tammy Newburn, testified at the hearing that she had encouraged him to bring the stun-gun to Washington.
“I was worried in a crowd like that there would be violence. I was afraid he would get hurt,” she said.
Prosecutors and the FBI said Newburn deferred to Barnett when they were being interviewed by law enforcement and she was unlikely to interfere if he defied the limits the court attached to his release. She spoke haltingly when discussing the events in Washington, at one point appearing to say she supported what he did in Washington.
“He believes in President Trump and he’s a patriot. He believes in us having our free country,” Newburn said. “I support him.”
Barnett’s partner later qualified those comments. “I’m not supportive of him in the Nancy Pelosi’s office necessarily, but … I support him supporting our country and that’s what he thought he was doing,” she added. “I don’t support anything that’s unlawful.”
Wiedemann ultimately decided to release Barnett under what she called “very, very restrictive” conditions that she called “home incarceration.” She ordered that the defendant be put under GPS monitoring and have no access to the internet.
The judge said the limits on Barnett’s communications were in response to “concerns the government has regarding the upcoming inauguration and the climate right now.”
“He appears to be a law abiding citizen, for the most part, although there have been incidents that do cause the court concern with him being armed at rallies,” the judge added.
Siano did make a passing complaint to Wiedemann that while his client is facing serious charges, those who organized and spoke to the “Stop the Steal” rally that devolved into the Capitol riot have not been charged.
“A defense lawyer in my position might surely be tempted to say to the court that no one who stepped to the podium or that promoted this event has been brought before the bar of justice,” Siano said.
Siano also said Barnett shouldn’t be penalized for his strong political views. “The fact that my client is outspoken and is a very, very enthusiastic supporter of Donald J. Trump and is a very enthusiastic supporter of the 2nd Amendment is not a basis for any charge in this case,” Siano said.
Siano added that the threats anonymous “crackpots and kooks” made against Barnett shouldn’t be a reason to deny him bail.
Harris said the government’s appeal of Weidemann’s order will go to the chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington, Beryl Howell.
Meanwhile, in a separate court hearing Friday afternoon, another figure who became an iconic image of the Capitol unrest was denied release pending trial.
Jacob Chansley, 33, a self-described shaman and QAnon conspiracy follower who appeared in the Capitol wearing face paint, an animal pelt and horns, appeared via Zoom at a detention hearing in Phoenix.
Federal prosecutors in Arizona said in a court filing Thursday that Chansley was part of a group that sought to capture and assassinate federal officials last week. However, the lead prosecutor in Washington told reporters Friday that statement may have been exaggerated due to a “disconnect” between the offices handling the cases.
During the hearing, prosecutors asked to drop the asssassination-related comments, but did not withdraw another stark claim that Chansley was part of a violent insurrection aimed at the U.S. government, court records show.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Fine ordered Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, detained pending trial. Fine concluded that he is “a serious flight risk, a serious risk of obstructing justice, and danger to the community,” according to the court docket.
Fine ordered the U.S. Marshals Service to transport Chansley to Washington for further court proceedings. He faces two felony charges — obstruction of Congress and interfering with police during a civil disorder — as well as four misdemeanors.