Saturday, December 3, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Capitol rioter accused of hitting cops with stick promises to be on ‘best behavior’ if granted pretrial release

Jonathan Mellis told a judge he will be on his "best behavior" if allowed to spend the days leading up to his Capitol riot-related trial at his home in Virginia, instead of behind bars at the D.C. Jail where he has been incarcerated since Jan. 26, 2021.

WASHINGTON (CN) — A Capitol riot defendant accused of attacking police officers with a stick on Jan. 6, 2021, is trying to convince a federal judge to let him out of the D.C. Jail, where he has been incarcerated for more than a year, insisting his girlfriend will make sure he stays out of trouble before his trial.

A federal judge rejected Jonathan Mellis’ initial pretrial release request in December, partly due to the violent nature of some of the charges he has pleaded not guilty to, including assault and obstruction. When the 34-year-old asked the judge to reconsider letting him live at his home in Virginia to prepare for the trial, he wrote a letter promising that he will be on his “best behavior” and will show “our government the respect it deserves."

But the Justice Department takes issue with the public safety risk to the community given his violent charges, as well as the person Mellis wants to serve as his third-party custodian: his girlfriend. 

She would be “ill-suited” to serve as Mellis’ watchdog "because of her romantic relationship with the defendant," the department said in a court filing

“And she must have been aware if not supportive of at least the defendant’s actions and assaults on law enforcement officers, and she must have been aware of the fact that the defendant was coming to Washington, D.C., to disrupt a lawfully constitutional process,” the filing states. 

At the beginning of this year, a woman claiming to be Mellis’ girlfriend called for his release while speaking at the “Justice for J6” rally, which was hosted by former Trump operative Matt Braynard on the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot. The woman told the crowd Mellis was allegedly being held in solitary confinement for no reason.  

U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan, a Reagan appointee, was supposed to hear oral arguments on the dispute on Monday, but technical difficulties prompted him to reschedule the hearing to next week. 

Mellis has been vying for pretrial release since being arrested on Feb. 11, 2021, about a month after the insurrection.  

And he is not alone. Other Jan. 6 defendants — including high-level defendants like Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio and Oath Keepers leader Edward Vallejo — also want to go home ahead of trial. 

Tarrio, 38, offered up his family’s homes to back his $1 million dollar bond in April and Vallejo, 63, released a trove of text messages that same month as part of his bid for pretrial release. The text messages raised questions over potential connections between the Proud Boys and Congressman Ronny Jackson, but the Texas Republican has since denied any link.

A judge denied Tarrio’s motion in May, but Vallejo was granted release last month on conditions that he surrender his passport, stay away from Washington and not possess a firearm. 

Although both men did not physically enter the Capitol on Jan. 6, they are accused of participating in the pre-planning of the siege and are facing some of the most serious charges filed yet, including seditious conspiracy. The rare charge carries up to 20 years behind bars. 

This week, Carmen Hernandez, a defense attorney for one of the Proud Boys pointed out that some group members have been denied pretrial release despite that fact they are facing similar charges and allegations as Oath Keepers members who have been granted pretrial release. 

“The fair and just thing,” she said, “would be for our [clients]” to be on home incarceration and 24/7 surveillance, “so we can review all the discovery.”  

Meanwhile, some Jan. 6 defendants who have been granted pretrial release, like Riley Williams, are not satisfied. 

Williams, who is accused of helping steal a laptop from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the riot, spent about a week in jail before being granted pretrial release on Jan. 27, 2021. She has been living with her mother in Pennsylvania for the last 17 months. 

After agreeing to the laundry list of pretrial detention restrictions, the 22-year-old now argues she should not be subjected to home detention or location monitoring because they are “unduly burdensome and overly restrictive.” 

But in a court filing on Friday, the Justice Department argued Williams should be put back in jail because she lied about a pre-approved visitor last year. 

After receiving court approval for her cousin from North Carolina to visit her in August, Williams is said to have told her supervisory officer that the cousin never came. 

Instead, she allegedly admitted that she met with an unnamed man who, “stole his roommates’ truck and attempted to purchase a firearm with the intent of committing a mass shooting at a synagogue.” 

The man was given a bad-conduct discharge from the U.S. Marines Corps and was sentenced to 19 months incarceration, according to the Justice Department. 

“Williams also admitted that she directed her third-party custodian, specifically her mother, to be dishonest with her then supervising probation / pretrial services officer,” the filing states. 

And during recent talks with Williams’s prior and current supervisory probation and pretrial services officers, the Justice Department said it “was informed of Williams’ inability to maintain consistent compliance with her pretrial release supervision." 

Prosecutors said the ex-Marine told them he spoke with her over FaceTime, which violates a pretrial restriction barring her from using a phone, computer or any electronic device to communicate with others via video.  

They also pointed to the fact that she has missed the deadline to submit her weekly schedule to pretrial services “multiple times.”  

A court date has not yet been set for oral arguments on her request for fewer restrictions, which means Williams will remain on pretrial release at home for the time being. 

The Justice Department has charged more than 840 people so far in connection with the attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election. 

As of June 6, about 246 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, 59 have pleaded guilty to felonies, and at least 80 people have been sentenced to incarceration. 

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.

Loading
Loading...