WASHINGTON (AP) — Complaining about jail conditions, a top leader of the Proud Boys far-right extremist group asked a judge on Monday to free him before he finishes serving a five-month sentence for burning a Black Lives Matter banner taken from a historic Black church in Washington, D.C.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Jonathan Pittman said Monday he would rule by the end of the week on whether to reduce Proud Boys chairman Henry “Enrique” Tarrio's sentence to 90 days. But the judge struck a consistently skeptical tone that left Tarrio, testifying by video from jail, visibly slumped in frustration.
Tarrio asked that his sentence be reduced or that he be allowed to finish it under house arrest because he claims he has been harassed by correctional officers and exposed to inhumane jail conditions. He said his cell has regularly flooded with dirty toilet water from a neighboring cell.
“I've been to jail before and what I've seen here, I've never seen anywhere else,” Tarrio said, wearing an orange jumpsuit and a mask over his face. “This place needs to be shut down immediately.”
He detailed abusive guards, constantly flooded cells, smoke-filled hallways and medical neglect, saying he witnessed a prisoner have a seizure who lay there for a half hour before any help arrived.
His voice cracking, Tarrio said, “I'm deathly afraid that something is going to happen to me."
The D.C. Department of Corrections did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But attorneys for the government acknowledged some problems with the jail conditions, saying they were being addressed. The flooding, they said, came from a prisoner in a neighboring cell who regularly flooded his own toilet in protest, and said Tarrio had since been moved to another cell. They denied Tarrio had been mistreated, singled out or denied his rights in any way.
Tarrio's complaints about jail conditions in Washington mirror those of several prisoners charged in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. Conditions at the D.C. central jail have long been a point of criticism for local activists. The issue has take on a national political dimension in recent months because of the Jan. 6 defendants.
In October, a federal judge held the District of Columbia’s corrections director and jail warden in contempt of court and asked the Justice Department to investigate whether inmates’ civil rights were being abused. The District and the U.S. Marshals Service struck a deal last week to improve conditions at the jail.
Judge Pittman on Monday took the jail's damaged reputation as proof that Tarrio wasn't being singled out for mistreatment.
"It is obviously distressing to hear of these conditions," he said. “I come back to the same question: How is Mr. Tarrio's condition any different than any other inmate at the jail?”
Tarrio claims he has endured “serious abuses of his rights on a dally basis” while being held in a segregation unit. Jail employees have ignored his requests for medical treatment, thrown cold, often inedible meals into his cell and denied him access to running water in his cell, he said.
“Mr. Tarrio has been intimidated and antagonized by correctional staff to dissuade him from making complaints about the horrendous conditions,” wrote Tarrio’s attorney, Lucas Dansie.
Roughly three dozen Proud Boys leaders, members and associates have been charged in the Capitol riot. Some of them are charged with conspiring to carry out a coordinated attack on the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's electoral victory.
Tarrio wasn’t at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and hasn’t been charged in connection with the riot. He was arrested in Washington on a warrant two days before the siege and ordered to stay out of the nation’s capital.
Tarrio pleaded guilty to destruction of property and attempted possession of a large-capacity ammunition feeding device. Police said officers found two unloaded firearm magazines emblazoned with the Proud Boys logo in Tarrio’s bag when they arrested him on Jan. 4.
Proud Boys members frequently brawl with antifascist activists at rallies and protests. With allies like longtime Trump backer Roger Stone, the group of self-described “Western chauvinists” emerged from far-right fringes and entered mainstream GOP circles during former President Donald Trump’s administration.
Several Jan. 6 defendants have filed suits about the D.C. jail facility. One of those cases led to a surprise U.S. Marshals Service inspection last month, which found systemic abuse and unsanitary conditions.
A federal judge later found both the jail’s warden and the director of the corrections department in contempt of court. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had summoned the jail officials to court in the case of Christopher Worrell, a member of the Proud Boys who has been charged in the Jan. 6 attack and who was delayed medical care for a broken wrist.
The Justice Department announced plans to transfer 400 federal prisoners from a total population of about 1,500 to another facility in Pennsylvania. However, Tarrio and the other Jan. 6 defendants were not set to be part of that transfer.
Tarrio on Monday cited the federal prisoner transfer as proof that the D.C. jail was simple unfit to continue operating.
He told the judge, “They don't move 400 prisoners for nothing.”
Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland.