Judge orders Justice Department to investigate treatment of Capitol riot suspects as he finds DC jail officials in contempt

Judge holds officials in contempt over alleged failure to turn over suspect’s medical records

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 13 October 2021 18:05
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A federal judge has found the warden of Washington DC jails and chief of the Department of Corrections in civil contempt as he urged the US Department of Justice to investigate the treatment of people jailed in connection with the 6 January attack on the US Capitol.

US District Judge Royce C Lamberth, an appointee of Ronald Reagan, filed the order on 13 October in connection with the case of Christopher Worrell, an alleged member of the nationalist Proud Boys gang who is charged with four felonies, including rioting and spraying pepper gel at a law enforcement officer during the assault on Congress.

On 8 October, the court ordered jail officials to provide medical records related to Mr Worrell’s broken wrist in order to receive approval for recommended surgery. He broke his wrist in May. Records were reportedly never shared despite “repeated” requests from the US Marshals Service Medical Branch, according to court records.

During a hearing on 13 October, Judge Lamberth said officials’ failure to turn over medical records is “more than just inept and bureaucratic jostling of papers”, according to The Washington Post.

“I find that the civil rights of the defendant have been abused,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s because he’s a [6 January] defendant or not, but I find this matter should be referred to the attorney general of the United States for a civil rights investigation into whether the DC Department of Corrections is violating the civil rights of [6 January] defendants ... in this and maybe other cases.”

The case marks the latest point of contention among inmates, advocates, officials and judges over the state of the deteriorating conditions at the jail in the nation’s capital and the impacts among jail facilities more broadly during the coronavirus pandemic. Right-wing pundits and lawmakers have also invoked conditions at the jail to suggest jailed suspects are political prisoners following an attack on law enforcement and lawmakers during the certification of 2020 presidential election results.

Roughly three dozen riot suspects were jailed in Washington DC, as of 2 September, making up only a fraction of the roughly 700 defendants in pretrial detention and 400 in federal custody.

Deputy Attorney General Chad Copeland told the court that Mr Worrell’s records were submitted on Tuesday, noting a delay from the federal Columbus Day holiday.

In a statement on Tuesday, the Department of Corrections said the agency is “committed to ensuring all inmates have access to continuity of healthcare services so their medical needs are met in a timely and efficient manner”.

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