WASHINGTON — An Iowa man who led a mob that chased US Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman near the Senate chamber on Jan. 6 will be released from jail, a judge ruled Tuesday, overriding the government’s objection that he continues to pose a danger.
Douglas Jensen was identified at the head of a group that Goodman led away from the Senate chamber, where senators were still being evacuated, in video that quickly went viral in the aftermath of the insurrection. Prosecutors later said that Jensen had been carrying a three-inch knife in his pocket, though he is not charged with using it.
Jensen was among the first wave of arrests in the days after the Jan. 6 riots; he’s been in custody since Jan. 8. Since then, the legal landscape around these prosecutions — and who must stay behind bars while their cases are pending — has shifted in favor of defendants. The judge in Jensen’s case focused on the fact that he isn’t charged with assaulting Goodman or other officers and wasn’t accused of using the knife in his pocket, and also that there wasn’t persuasive evidence he’d planned in advance for violence.
Jensen is facing a seven-count indictment and multiple felony charges, including that he interfered with Goodman’s efforts to protect the Capitol and obstructed Congress; bringing a knife also escalated the seriousness of several counts he’s facing for illegally going into the Capitol. There are videos that show Jensen at the front of a crowd confronting Goodman as the lone officer tried to maintain control and then racing up a set of stairs after Goodman as the officer led the mob away from the entrance to the Senate chamber.
Jensen will be on home incarceration, which is the strictest form of pretrial release available — he’ll only be allowed to leave his house for medical necessities and court appearances, and must get approval to go out for any other reason; the judge ordered GPS monitoring as an extra check. He won’t be allowed to use the internet or have guns or weapons in his house.
US District Judge Timothy Kelly paused a few times during Tuesday’s hearing to stress that his decision to allow Jensen to go home didn’t mean the judge was downplaying the seriousness of what happened on Jan. 6 or diminishing what he described as Goodman’s bravery that day. The judge also said that no one should take his decision to release Jensen as a sign that he’d show leniency at sentencing if Jensen is ultimately found guilty or pleads guilty.
Pretrial detention fights have offered an early look at how judges are engaging with the unprecedented crush of criminal prosecutions related to the attack on the Capitol. Judges are only supposed to order pretrial detention if there are no other release conditions that would keep the community safe and address flight risk. Of the more than 500 people charged so far, the vast majority have been allowed to go home, subject to a variety of release conditions that range from home incarceration to minimal restrictions on their movement.
Over the past six months, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has raised the bar for prosecutors to prove that a person charged with participating in the insurrection still poses a danger to society — generally making it harder, but not impossible, for the government to successfully argue for pre-trial detention in cases like Jensen’s where a defendant isn’t charged with specific acts of violence or property destruction, or taking a leadership role.
The ongoing investigation into the Jan. 6 riots more than six months later also complicates efforts by prosecutors to keep defendants in jail as they wait for a trial or consider plea offers from the government. Several judges have expressed concerns about keeping people locked up for indefinite periods of time since pretrial detention isn’t supposed to serve as a punishment for crimes a person hasn’t been convicted of yet.
Immediately after Jensen’s arrest in January, a federal magistrate judge in Iowa had ruled that he could go home, but prosecutors successfully challenged in the federal district court in Washington, where all of these cases are being handled. When Jensen’s case last came up for a decision on detention in February, he didn’t fight the government’s request to keep him in jail. That changed in June, when he first made a formal request to go home.
In arguing to keep Jensen in jail, the government focused on the scope of his involvement in the riots on Jan. 6, his belief in the QAnon collective delusion and apparent willingness to act on those beliefs, his role in leading the crowd that chased Goodman, and his refusal to obey orders to stand down and leave. The government cited a DC Circuit decision last week upholding pretrial detention for Timothy Hale-Cusanelli, who also isn’t charged with assaulting police but allegedly made comments afterwards about the “rush” and “purpose” he felt on Jan. 6 and his desire for civil war; prosecutors also cited what they described as Hale-Cusanelli’s long, documented history of violent white supremacist beliefs.
The night before Tuesday’s hearing, the government released several videos from the Capitol they’d retrieved from Jensen’s phone that they had cited as evidence of his enthusiasm for the attack and efforts to put himself at the front of it. (BuzzFeed News is part of a media coalition that has been petitioning for disclosure of video evidence in the Jan. 6 prosecutions.)
In one video, Jensen records himself smiling as he touches a wall outside the Capitol and declares, “This is me, touching the fucking White House. This is why we’re here. I am at the White House, just so you know.” Although he got the location wrong — a fact that the judge cited on Tuesday as evidence that he hadn’t planned in advance to assault the Capitol — prosecutors cited the video as proof that he went to the building “with the intention of causing mayhem and disrupting the democratic process.”
Video of Jensen at the US Capitol, not “the fucking White House," as he identifies it.
But Jensen’s lawyer argued that he’d been sucked into the world of QAnon and now realized he’d been “deceived.” Kelly concluded that Jensen’s case was a “mixed bag,” but ultimately that his lack of actual violence towards officers, minimal criminal record, and stable home life weighed in favor of allowing him to go home.
Jensen doesn’t have a trial date scheduled. He’s scheduled to make his next appearance in court later this month when the government and his lawyer can update the judge on the status of his case.