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Judge holds DC Jail officials in contempt, calls for civil rights investigation into treatment of Capitol riot defendant

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth sanctioned D.C. Corrections officials on Tuesday over a months-long delay in medical treatment for Christopher Worrell.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge hauled two D.C. Department of Corrections officials into court Wednesday and held them in civil contempt – saying he was referring their “inexcusable” delays in getting medical care for a Capitol riot defendant to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for a civil rights investigation.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth ordered D.C. Jail Warden Wanda Patten and D.C. Department of Correction Director Quincy Booth to appear before him after the agency failed to produce an orthopedic specialist’s notes about a necessary hand surgery for Christopher Worrell.

Worrell, a Naples, Florida, resident, has been in the custody of the D.C. Jail since his arrest in March on multiple felony charges in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He is accused of joining other members of the Proud Boys in storming the U.S. Capitol Building and of assaulting federal officers with pepper gel spray. In June, Lamberth rejected a bid by Worrell to be released from jail over alleged threats he made against witnesses in his case.

Credit: Department of Justice
A man the DOJ has identified as Christopher Worrell, of Naples, Florida, sprays pepper gel toward police on January 6, 2021, during the Capitol riot.

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While in the custody of the jail in mid-May, Worrell broke his wrist. A specialist then recommended him for surgery to repair the damage.

Last week, after learning that surgery still had not occurred, Lamberth ordered the D.C. Department of Corrections to turn over all the necessary notes to the U.S. Marshals Service so they could move forward with approving it. On Tuesday, with the notes still not in the Marshals’ possession, Lamberth set a contempt trial for the DOC officials Wednesday morning.

“His medical need hasn’t been met since June!” Lamberth admonished the corrections officials. “He’s needed an operation. He hasn’t gotten it. The Marshals Service has been asking for this information. They haven’t gotten it. It took a court order from me and a threat of contempt to get it approved. Why did that happen? No one at the jail noticed he’s been sitting there in pain this whole time?”

Deputy Attorney General Chad Copeland, speaking for the department, told Lamberth the records had been turned over to the Marshals on Tuesday – noting that it had only been one full business day due to the Columbus Day holiday – and said going forward any such documentation would be included in Worrell’s electronic medical record. He said there was no need to hold the officials in contempt, since the notes had ultimately been turned over.

Lamberth was not satisfied with that.

“It’s clear to the court they had given the back of the hand to the court,” he said.

Lamberth then took the rare step of holding both officials in civil contempt. He also said he was filing an order to refer the case to the U.S. Attorney General’s Office for a civil rights investigation.

“It’s clear to me the civil rights of the defendant were violated by the D.C. Department of Corrections,” Lamberth said. “I don’t know if it’s because he’s a January 6 defendant or not.”

While civil contempt can be accompanied by a fine or even jail time, Lamberth chose not to impose any additional sanctions besides the referral to the Justice Department.

Worrell did not appear at the hearing Wednesday, but his attorney, Alex Stavrou, spoke on his behalf. Stavrou said his client, who has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, has been recommended for a six-month course of chemotherapy and radiation.

“There are grave concerns that if they’re going to treat something more serious in the same manner, this could be cruel and unusual punishment for my client,” Stavrou said. “My client and I have grave concerns going forward that they are not going to be paying attention to his needs.”

In a statement to WUSA Wednesday afternoon, Stavrou said he and Worrell were "pleased" with the hearing's outcome and expected Lamberth to factor the situation at the jail into his ruling on an outstanding motion by Worrell to have his bond status reviewed.

"On behalf of all January 6 defendants, we support the Judge's position that the Office of the Attorney General investigate into potential civil rights violations," Stavrou said. "On behalf of Christopher Worrell and all January 6 defendants, we trust and pray that the Office of the Attorney General will conduct this inquiry immediately and without prejudice."

WUSA reached out to the D.C. Department of Corrections for further comment on Judge Royce Lamberth’s decision Wednesday, but did not immediately receive a response. In a statement to WUSA on Tuesday prior to the hearing, the department said it is “committed to ensuring all inmates have access to continuity of health care services so their medical needs are met in a timely and efficient manner.”

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