WASHINGTON — A surge of COVID-19 cases at the D.C. Jail has forced hundreds of residents back into quarantine and, on Wednesday, prompted the delay of one of the first January 6 cases scheduled for trial.
A motion hearing was scheduled Wednesday for Robert Gieswein, a Colorado man under indictment on multiple felony charges for allegedly assaulting Capitol Police with pepper spray and a baseball bat. Gieswein had eight motions pending before the court – including a motion to dismiss the charges against him altogether -- however, the planned hearing was quickly cut short after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan was informed Gieswein would be appearing by phone as he was currently in COVID-19 quarantine at the D.C. Jail’s Correctional Treatment Facility.
Ann Rigby, one of two federal public defenders assigned to Gieswein’s case, told Sullivan she believed the unit where Gieswein and other January 6 defendants were being held had been under COVID-19 lockdown since Christmas Eve. Rigby said her understanding was the most recent positive test at the CTF was last week, and that residents at the facility would have to remain under quarantine for at least another two weeks.
According to daily COVID-19 statistics provided by the D.C. Department of Health, as of Wednesday, nearly 800 residents of the D.C. Department of Corrections were currently in COVID-19 quarantine. That’s a little more than half of the roughly 1,500 detained residents housed in the jail’s two adult facilities. Just under 90 of the jail’s 469 employees were also reported out on COVID-19 quarantine.
A message to the D.C. Department of Corrections seeking additional comment was not immediately returned.
Rigby said the situation at the jail was one of a number of factors warranting Gieswein’s release – which Sullivan did not grant – but added that it also made communication with her client next to impossible. As such, she said, Gieswein’s scheduled February 1 trial date was no longer tenable. Sullivan agreed, and reset jury selection in the case for April 28.
Gieswein, like many of the January 6 defendants detained at the D.C. Jail, is unvaccinated and "has no plans to get vaccinated," Sullivan said Wednesday.
The effects of the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases nationwide from the omicron variant hasn’t been limited to Gieswein’s case, Sullivan noted. At least one judge on the D.C. District Court has reportedly tested positive for the virus in recent days, according to Sullivan, and the district has seen a significant uptick in calls from prospective jurors worried about contracting the virus if called to serve.
Trials in the district are currently on hold until January 24 under order of Chief Judge Beryl Howell. When jury trials resume, under Howell’s order no more than one criminal jury selection will be allowed to take place per day, and no more than three criminal trials will be held at one time. Courtrooms have also been retrofitted with plexiglass and other health measures to attempt to limit the transmission of the virus. Howell’s order in August noted at the time that 10 jury trials had been conducted safely in the courthouse since March 2021.
A February 1 jury trial for two other Capitol riot defendants, Peter Schwartz and Jeffery Scott Brown, was also vacated this month. They will instead appear for a status conference on February 18. As of Wednesday, the first defendant in any January 6 case scheduled to appear before a jury was Texas Three Percenter Guy Reffitt on February 28.
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