WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A federal judge on Wednesday held top officials at the Washington, D.C., Department of Corrections in civil contempt, after ruling they violated the civil rights of a U.S. Capitol riot defendant by impeding his access to medical care.
“It is more than just inept and bureaucratic shuffling of papers,” U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said.
“I find that the civil rights of the defendant have been abridged. I don’t know if it’s because he is a Jan. 6 defendant or not, but I find that this matter should be referred to the attorney general of the United States … for a civil rights investigation.”
Lamberth’s verbal and written order came during a court hearing on Wednesday, after the judge previously threatened to hold District of Columbia Department of Corrections Director Quincy Booth and Warden Wanda Patten in contempt for failing to turn over notes from a doctor for defendant Christopher Worrell.
Wednesday marks the first time a judge has issued such an order — which carries no penalty of its own — against the jail over the treatment of Jan. 6 defendants, after defense lawyers in other cases have previously complained about poor conditions or treatment at the D.C. jail.
Worrell, a self-proclaimed member of the far-right Proud Boys group from Florida, is facing numerous criminal charges for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including assaulting police and civil disorder.
At least 650 people have been arrested across the United States over the unrest, when supporters of Republican then-President Donald Trump stormed the capital building to try to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory.
Worrell has non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and broke his hand while in custody in May, his attorney said. In June, an orthopedic surgeon at a nearby hospital recommended he have surgery to repair it.
Since then, however, Worrell has been unable to get the surgery because the Department of Corrections has not provided the doctor’s notes to the U.S. Marshals Service.
The Marshals Service oversees the detention and transportation of all federal inmates, including in cases where they are being housed in local jail facilities such as the D.C. jail.
But without access to the surgeon’s notes, the Marshals Service was unable to approve Worrell’s surgery, Lamberth said in court on Wednesday, adding this was why he ordered the notes to be turned over promptly.
Chris Geldart, Deputy Mayor for Public Safety and Justice, said in a statement that the Department of Corrections “has made every effort to comply with the orders of District Court.”
“The Department works to ensure the Constitutional rights of all residents and will fully cooperate with any lawful inquiries or investigation by the United States Department of Justice,” he added.
A Justice Department spokesperson said the referral had been received but declined to comment further.
Worrell has been in custody since his March arrest. As of Oct. 4, he is one of 37 Jan. 6 defendants detained in the D.C. jail.
Before Worrell broke his hand, his then-attorney argued in court that he had not had adequate access to medical treatment for his cancer. His new attorney, Alex Stavrou, told Reuters his client was found unconscious with the broken hand on May 16, after what appeared to be a fall possibly tied to his other medical conditions.
“We support the judge’s position that the Office of the Attorney General investigate into potential civil rights violations,” he told Reuters in a statement, adding that Worrell and other Jan. 6 defendants hope Attorney General Merrick Garland will “conduct this inquiry immediately and without prejudice.
(Reporting by Sarah N. LynchEditing by Peter Graff and Alistair Bell)