WASHINGTON (CN) — A New Yorker who has taken great lengths to distinguish himself from fellow insurrectionists jailed after storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 persuaded a federal judge Tuesday to grant him pretrial release.
"I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt, which I think you've earned,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told defendant Thomas Sibick at a hearing in Washington this morning. “Please understand, Mr. Sibick, that you will get only one chance."
Citing concern about the “toxic environment” in the Washington jail where Sibick has been held since his arrest in March, Jackson ordered the defendant's release to his parents' home in upstate New York while he awaits trial.
Defense attorneys described the efforts of their client in jail to separate himself from the so-called “Patriot Wing,” where about 40 men who tried to overthrow the U.S. government on Jan. 6 are alleged to be continually radicalizing each other, circulating a handwritten newsletter and singing the national anthem every night.
“I heard them myself,” said Sibick’s defense attorney Stephen Brennwald, relaying to Jackson that Sibick had to pause his phone call with Brennwald to sing the National Anthem, worried that the group would be angry at him if he didn’t. “It’s a herd mentality. … It was cult-like. It was pretty scary.”
Sibick asked to be put into solitary confinement, and his jail guards certify he has since exhibited model inmate behavior.
Suggesting that his political opinions have shifted as well, Sibick wrote in a letter to Jackson last week that he “loathed” former President Donald Trump, whose words he said cause “pain and harm to the world.”
“The shame, dishonor, and regret endured are without question the worst emotions ever experienced,” Sibick wrote. “I disagree with what occurred that fateful day, especially the trauma suffered by Officer Michael Fanone, it is without question unconscionable.”
On Jan. 6, Sibick stole D.C. Police Officer Mike Fanone’s badge and radio while the officer was getting assaulted by a group of rioters. After repeatedly lying to FBI agents about where the items were, Sibick eventually dug the badge up from the spot in his backyard where he had buried it. Sibick turned it in, covered in mud, but says he threw the radio away.
Jackson previously denied Sibick bond — an Oct. 1 decision that the D.C. Circuit later upheld.
But Brennwald told Jackson that Sibick deserved a second chance in light of the scores of letters submitted to the judge on Sibick’s behalf, Sibick’s own letter evidencing his shifting views, his behavior in the jail, and new information about Sibick’s mental health.
Brennwald said that in a recent conversation with Sibick’s parents, he learned that a few years ago, Sibick distanced himself from his criminal past, got on a new medication and turned his life around. He earned a master's degree in business administration and settled down, getting an apartment and a girlfriend.
“It took him a while but he finally grew up,” Brennwald said, calling the insurrection a complete aberration from the changed Sibick, one that can be credited to Sibick “watching Fox News in a manic haze.”
“I find that the record before me now includes information that was not known, material bearing on the issue,” Jackson said, specifically referencing Brennwald’s new medication and the pressure that he had to resist to separate himself from the other Jan. 6 inmates. “It is new and unique and unbelievably troubling because of the toxic environment in the jail.”
Jackson released Sibick to the custody of his father, dentist Eugene Sibick, with conditions for Sibick to stay on his parents' property — except for church once a week. She also prohibited Sibick from using social media or watching any news.
“Turn off the talk shows, the news, all of it,” said Jackson, telling Sibick’s father that the news could inflame his son’s thoughts. “I think it has to be kind of a calm environment.”
Eugene Sibick tearfully told Jackson that his son has a lot of support back home, and he would abide by any conditions of release.
“I’ll do anything I need to do to get him home,” Eugene Sibick said.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.