All suspects detained in Washington, D.C., on charges stemming from the Jan. 6 siege of the Capitol are being treated as "maximum security" prisoners and are held in "restrictive housing," District officials revealed this week.
During a hearing in the case of Lisa Eisenhart, who has been held in pretrial detention for weeks, District of Columbia officials told U.S. District Court Judge Royce Lamberth that this determination was meant to protect Capitol riot suspects from potential altercations in the general prison population. It's unclear how many of the alleged participants in the Capitol siege are currently being held in the D.C. jail.
Eisenhart, who is facing charges for storming the Capitol with her son Eric Munchel — who donned tactical gear and wielded zip-ties in the Capitol — had pleaded with Lamberth to order the jail to put her in a less restrictive environment. Her attorney Gregory Smith said Eisenhart has essentially been held in solitary confinement and urged Lamberth to transfer her to another prison facility that might allow for less restrictive conditions.
A magistrate judge in Tennessee previously ordered the release of Eisenhart and her son pending trial, but Lamberth reversed that decision, ruling that the pair were too dangerous to remain home as they await further action in their cases. Both Eisenhart and Munchel have appealed that decision, asking the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to release them.
Munchel, in particular, became a high-profile symbol of the Jan. 6 insurrection. Though he hasn't been accused of committing any violence, the image of him with a gaiter covering his face, hopping a guardrail in the Senate chamber — zip ties visibly at the ready — captured the fear among many in the building that day that the violent riots could have taken a much darker turn.
Smith said the housing determination seemed intended to punish Capitol riot suspects without consideration of the individual charges they faced — and that move, he said, could lead to a perception that the alleged rioters were being punished for political reasons.
“Ms. Eisenhart’s own codefendant, and son, appeared to already be placed into the general population at D.C. Jail,” Smith said in a filing with the court last week, “while Ms. Eisenhart remained under harsh restrictions requiring her shackling whenever she was allowed to step outside her cell, which also only occurred during five hours per week.”
Smith, who said Eisenhart was getting less than one hour of exercise per day, said Eisenhart was briefly moved into the prison’s general population. But that change was revoked after prison officials told her it was an error.
“In the general population, she could shower whenever she wanted. She could wash clothes whenever she wanted. She could heat up food that had gotten cold. She could visit a library with far more books, and begin legal research,” Smith said. “She got her first good night’s sleep since arriving, as the cells in the general population area are far warmer than her previous cell (where the temperature appears to be about 55 degrees Fahrenheit). And perhaps most importantly, she was able for the first time in weeks to interact and talk with other human beings who were not assigned to monitor her movements and activities as prison guards.”
But Lamberth rejected the notion of disparate treatment, ruling Thursday that he had no power to intervene in the D.C. jail's classification decisions unless they're so "irrational" that it warrants his involvement. In this case, he said, the city government's decision to segregate riot suspects has a "rational basis": safety. And it is being applied uniformly, he noted.
"The Attorney General assigned the defendant to the District of Columbia Jail, where all detainees held in relation to the events of January 6 have been placed in restrictive housing for their own safety and the safety of the jail," Lamberth said in his five-page order.
“She does not explain how similarly situated male detainees — other than her son — or female detainees have been treated,” Lamberth added. “Nor does the record contain evidence to show discrimination or irrationality”
Speaking at Wednesday's hearing, D.C. officials emphasized that concern, noting that the suspects' role in the riot could make them targets and lead to confrontations with other inmates. One official noted that another Capitol rioter, Jacob Chansley — who was moved to an Alexandria, Va., facility in order to satisfy his demand for organic food — led to complaints of "preferential treatment" within the D.C. facility.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.