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Jan. 6 riot defendant from Northern California wants out of DC jail, citing mental decline

Sam Stanton, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in News & Features

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A week after rejecting a plea agreement from federal prosecutors, accused Jan. 6 rioter Sean Michael McHugh is asking a judge to release him from custody pending trial because his mental health is deteriorating and he is facing abuse inside a Washington, D.C., jail.

McHugh’s lawyer also is seeking dismissal of the charges the Northern California man faces, arguing that the bear spray and metal sign he is accused of using against police officers trying to defend the U.S. Capitol during the insurrection are not dangerous weapons.

McHugh, who allegedly texted someone that he “unloaded a whole can of bear spray on a line of cops,” also has filed a grievance against his jailers, claiming he was hit by pepper spray “for absolutely no reason” and had to wait two hours for medical treatment, court documents say.

Court filings by McHugh attorney Joseph Allen follow a hearing last week during which McHugh rejected a plea bargain offer and U.S. District Judge John D. Bates ordered him to face trial starting April 17, then warned him that he would not allow further delays in the case.

McHugh, a 35-year-old construction worker from Auburn, is the only one of four Sacramento-area defendants charged in the riot who remains in custody. He was arrested at his home in May 2021 and is being held at the Correctional Treatment Facility in southeast Washington, D.C.

Judges in Sacramento and Washington, D.C., have ruled that McHugh remain in custody, citing danger to the community from his alleged actions on Jan. 6 and because of his lengthy criminal history.


But McHugh’s lawyer argues in his latest filing that his client cannot help prepare for trial in jail and that his “mental health is the lowest it can be.”

“Mr. McHugh has now been incarcerated for almost a year and a half, thousands of miles away from his home and family,” Allen wrote in a motion seeking that McHugh be released to the custody of either his father or his “life partner.”

“He has a teenage son who desperately needs him and for whom Mr. McHugh has devoted many years to maintaining and increasing the time he is able to spend with him. Mr. McHugh was, until the date of his incarceration, heavily invested in bonding with his son, including such activities as gymnastics and parkour.

“Further still, the declining health of Mr. McHugh’s father as a result of multiple back and knee surgeries, and the recent diagnosis of macular degeneration, had made him dependent on Mr. McHugh for the majority of any physical or manual aid up to the time of Mr. McHugh’s incarceration.”


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