Cowboys for Trump founder released pending Capitol riot trial; attorney's say he's 'not mafia'

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Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
·2 min read
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A New Mexico public official and founder of the group "Cowboys for Trump," was ordered released Friday, pending trial for allegedly entering a restricted area of the Capitol complex during the Jan. 6 riots.

While acknowledging that Couy Griffin had expressed disregard for the legitimacy of the government, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said Griffin had not engaged in violence and was not among those who breached the actual Capitol building during the deadly siege that left five dead.

"I'm a little puzzled about the request for pre-trial detention in this case," Howell said, citing the single misdemeanor charge lodged against Griffin.

Had Griffin been ordered to pre-trial detention, Howell said it was possible — because of trial delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic — that he would remain there longer than the one-year maximum sentence if convicted at trial.

Howell ordered that Griffin, an Otero County, New Mexico commissioner, surrender his passport, barred him from carrying firearms and required him to report regularly to federal authorities as conditions of his release.

The judge also directed the government to return Griffin's vehicle, seized following his Jan. 17 arrest, so that he could drive back to New Mexico.

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Howell's ruling overturned a magistrate order earlier this week concluding that Griffin's actions were part of "an attempt to stop democracy from moving forward," and that "no combination of conditions" would ensure his presence at future court proceedings.

On Friday, however, Howell noted Griffin's cooperation with the FBI during and the investigation.

Prosecutors had argued that Griffin, who had met multiple times with President Donald Trump, posed both a risk of flight and to public safety citing the suspect's remarks at a Jan. 14, Otero County, New Mexico, Commission meeting when he talked about returning to Washington for the inauguration with a rifle and handgun.

"Specifically, the defendant stated: 'I am going to leave either tonight or tomorrow. I’ve got a .357 Henry big boy rifle . . . that I got in the trunk of my car, and I’ve got a .357 single action revolver . . . that I will have underneath the front seat on my right side.' "

Griffin's lawyers, while noting that Griffin had not been accused of violence, said their client "got caught up in the crowd, which eventually pushed through the barricades."

"Mr. Griffin is not a mafia member," his attorneys argued in court papers. "He is an elected official on the governing body of Otero County, New Mexico and a former pastor. He is a well-known figure in his home state, where he was born and lived his entire life."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cowboys for Trump founder released pending trial on Capitol riots