DOJ pushes back against claims of mistreatment at DC jail where Capitol rioters are being held

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo insurrections loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. A federal judge held the director of the District of Columbia’s Department of Corrections and the warden of the city’s jail in contempt of court on Wednesday, Oct. 13, and asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the civil rights of inmates are being abused. U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth had hauled the jail officials into court as part of the criminal case into Christopher Worrell, a member of the Proud Boys who has been charged in the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)(AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Federal prosecutors on Wednesday pushed back against claims of mistreatment at a Washington, DC, jail where dozens of US Capitol rioters are being held — allegations that led a federal judge to refer the jail for an investigation into potential civil rights violations after holding its officials in contempt of court.

The Justice Department’s disclosures came in the case of defendant Christopher Worrell, whose case has become a cause célèbre in right-wing circles because of his health issues while in jail. During an October 13 hearing, Worrell’s lawyer claimed that because jail officials had dragged their feet getting his client medical treatment for a broken finger, Worrell needed surgery. He is also diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and at one point he contracted Covid-19 while at the jail.

But in a court filing on Wednesday, which cited notes from multiple doctors, federal prosecutors said that Worrell had “invented” his medical needs.

Worrell’s lawyer told CNN following the prosecutors’ accusation that Worrell would be “taking issue with that position.” He still has the ability to respond in court, in his own filing, and the judge overseeing his case, Royce Lamberth, has not responded.

Worrell has pleaded not guilty to January 6-related charges and is jailed as he awaits a trial.

Worrell’s case and medical situation have been cited as evidence of political persecution by right wing figures behind the “Justice for J6” rallies and online movement. They’ve held him up as a poster child to argue the government under President Joe Biden is mistreating supporters of former President Donald Trump who were jailed after participating in the insurrection.

A number of Capitol riot defendants have complained about what they say are unsanitary or unsafe conditions in the DC jail. In previous hearings, some judges have said they are working with the jail to try and address those complaints and have expressed their frustration as imprisoned defendants raise access issues.

In a separate case Wednesday related to the January 6 attack, Judge Emmet Sullivan noted he was aware of some difficulties with defendants’ situations in jail, specifically related to how they could access evidence in their cases to prepare for trial. But Sullivan also critiqued Capitol riot defendants who have dragged claims about their treatment in jail into the courtroom.

Sullivan noted in a hearing that he thought some defense attorneys were bringing up issues to judges like injured wrists when they should be talking directly with the jail instead.

“They’re running a jail, not a hotel. Some people want hotel services,” Sullivan said.

The DOJ wrote in its filing that one doctor said that Worrell’s finger surgery was an “elective procedure” that he had wanted because he did not like the appearance of how his fracture healed.

“He was informed that surgery has risks that may outweigh the benefits of a surgery. Although, we discussed the risks of infection, poor function, pain, etc … the patient’s beyond reason at this time,” notes from the doctor read. “We will proceed with extreme caution, since it is apparent that ulterior motives are at play.”

Prosecutors also allege that Worrell had turned down earlier treatment at the jail for his cancer, among other medical conditions.

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