WASHINGTON — A federal judge reversed her bond decision Tuesday for a Capitol riot defendant accused of robbing a D.C. Police officer – in part because she found “toxic” conditions in the D.C. Jail were likely to contribute to his further radicalization if he was kept in pretrial detention.
U.S. District Judge Amy B. Jackson released Thomas Sibick, 35, released to his parents’ Buffalo, New York, home under 24-hour incarceration on Tuesday after hearing from his lawyer and a tearful plea from his father, Dr. Eugene Sibick, a former officer with the U.S. Navy who publicly criticized his son’s detention at the “Justice for J6” rally in September and has called him a “political prisoner.”
Dr. Sibick told Jackson he would do anything to get his son home, including making sure he abides by her order that he not watch any political television programming that could “inflame his thoughts.”
“I’m not going to order that he not watch Fox News; I’m going to order that you turn off the talk shows, period. No MSNBC either,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to make sure it’s a calm environment. And I’m looking to you to make sure of that.”
Sibick was indicted in April along with two co-defendants – Albuquerque Cosper Head and Kyle Young – on multiple felony counts in connection with the brutal assault on D.C. Police Officer Michael Fanone during the Capitol riot. While other rioters were beating and tasing Fanone – causing him to suffer a concussion and a heart attack – Sibick is accused of robbing him of his badge and radio. Sibick then returned home with the badge to New York and buried it in his backyard. Fanone’s radio has never been recovered.
Sibick has been held in pretrial detention in D.C. since his arrest along with other January 6 defendants. Jackson had rejected his requests for release before – most recently during an early-October hearing in which his lawyer claimed, to Jackson’s skepticism, that Sibick was actually trying to help Fanone up when he inadvertently robbed him. On Tuesday, however, Jackson was more receptive to the idea of release.
Sibick’s attorney, Stephen Brennwald, submitted reports from D.C. Department of Corrections officers detailing Sibick’s “excellent” marks at the D.C. Jail. In one report, dated August 11, a supervisor noted Sibick was “very respectful and helpful” and was a “model inmate.”
Sibick himself also wrote a letter to the judge calling January 6 a “disgrace to our nation” and rejected the former president who he’d come to D.C. to support.
“While many praise Trump, I loathe him, his words and actions are nefarious causing pain and harm to the world,” Sibick wrote. “He is not a leader and should be ostracized from any political future, what he honestly needs to do is go away!”
Jackson appeared to put particular weight on reports about ongoing radicalization of January 6 defendants being held together at the D.C. Jail – reports which Brennwald said he could confirm himself. Brennwald told Jackson he has heard Capitol riot defendants all singing the Star Spangled Banner every night at 9 p.m. in a “cult-like” fashion. He also said Sibick has requested he be held in solitary confinement as a way of escaping the group.
“Mr. Sibick has gone through extraordinary lengths to separate himself from the toxic environment he was in in that unit,” Brennwald said.
Jackson said she found reports of the “toxic environment” at the D.C. Jail compelling, as well as the “incredible pressure he’s had to resist to be someone” in the unit with other January 6 defendants. She also noted the government had scoured Sibick’s social media accounts and found no evidence he’d posted threats, either before or after the riot, that have served as justification for holding other defendants in jail.
Jackson ultimately said she had decided to release Sibick to the custody of his parents, under the condition that he continue the psychiatric treatment he’s begun in custody and that he stay away from D.C. and all political rallies. She also ordered him to stay off social media and not to watch any political television programming.
“I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt, which I think you’ve earned,” Jackson said. “Please understand, Mr. Sibick, that you will get only one chance.”
Other Capitol riot defendants have found prohibitions against the sources of misinformation that led them to D.C. on January 6 in the first place difficult to abide by. In September, U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly ordered Doug Jensen, of Iowa, back into custody after the QAnon follower was caught by a probation officer violating the terms of his release by watching My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell’s election fraud symposium on a cell phone in his garage. Jensen’s attorney, Christopher Davis, argued conspiracy theories had become like an “addiction” for Jensen.
Tuesday isn’t the first time a judge on the D.C. District Court has questioned conditions at the D.C. Jail. Earlier this month, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth held two top D.C. Department of Corrections officials in contempt over their failure to turn over medical records for another January 6 defendant, Christopher Worrell. In that case, Lamberth referred the issue to the Department of Justice for a possible civil rights investigation.
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