Exclusive: ‘QAnon Shaman’ in plea bargains after mental health diagnosis

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WASHINGTON, July 23 (Reuters) – The participant in the January 6 U.S. Capitol riots, nicknamed the “QAnon Shaman”, is negotiating a possible plea deal with prosecutors, after prison psychologists discovered he was suffering from various mental illnesses, his lawyer said.

In an interview, defense attorney Albert Watkins said officials with the Federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, diagnosed his client Jacob Chansley with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.

BOP findings, which have yet to be made public, suggest Chansley’s mental state deteriorated due to the stress of being held in solitary confinement at a prison in Alexandria, Va., a said Watkins.

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“As he spent more time in solitary confinement … the decline in his acuity was noticeable, even to the untrained eye,” Watkins said in an interview Thursday.

He said Chansley’s 2006 mental health records from his time in the US Navy show a diagnosis similar to that of BOP.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the case.

Chansley is one of the most recognizable of the hundreds of Donald Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol after the then-president, in a fiery speech, falsely claimed his defeat in the November election was the result of a fraud.

Chansley, from Arizona, was photographed inside the Capitol wearing a gored headdress, shirtless and heavily tattooed. He is a proponent of the QAnon conspiracy theory that portrays Trump as a savior figure and elite Democrats as a cabal of pedophiles and Satanist cannibals.

He faces charges of civil disorder and obstruction of official process.

Watkins did not say what Chansley plans to plead guilty to, but defendants who negotiate plea deals typically seek to plead a less serious charge to reduce their potential jail time.

Watkins said authorities will need to determine how Chansley can access the treatment he needs to “actively participate in his own defense.” Pleading guilty to a charge negates the need for a trial, but defendants must still be found mentally capable.

Watkins said his client’s BOP assessment did not say Chansley was mentally incompetent and he did not expect Chansley to be ordered to undergo what is known as restorative treatment. skills.

‘CHOCOLATE SOUP’

Watkins said his client had expressed certain delusions, including “believing that he was indeed directly related to Jesus and Buddha.”

Jacob Anthony Chansley, also known as Jake Angeli, of Arizona talks to a US Capitol Police officer after supporters of President Donald Trump occupied the US Capitol in Washington, USA, on January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken a guy who’s unarmed, harmless, peaceful… with significant pre-existing mental vulnerability, and we’ve turned him into a mess of chocolate soup,” a said Watkins.

Federal prosecutors have arrested more than 535 people accused of taking part in the violence, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and send members of Congress and then-Vice President Mike Pence running to get to safety.

To date, about 20 defendants have pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the attack, according to a government tally.

Chansley is jailed pending trial, after prosecutors convinced a federal judge that he remains a danger if released.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth ordered him in May to undergo a skills assessment.

As of July 5, he was one of 188 men and women undergoing an initial mental health assessment to determine if they were fit to stand trial, according to BOP data.

The BOP in 2017 was blamed by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General for its use of special housing units to confine mentally ill inmates, and the BOP agreed to limit how long inmates stay in restrictive housing and ensure they have meaningful human rights. contact.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has led the BOP to step up its use of solitary living units as a means of quarantining inmates to contain the spread of the virus.

A BOP spokeswoman said inmates are sometimes held alone in a cell, but are not cut off from human contact or services.

“Although we need to place individuals in a single cell for various reasons, such as medical isolation, they have access to staff and programming,” she said.

Those COVID-19 restrictions, Watkins said, are what led the BOP to place Chansley in solitary confinement.

Seeking a federal inmate’s skills assessment can be a slippery slope for defense attorneys.

On the one hand, incompetent defendants cannot be prosecuted if they cannot understand the charges or participate in their defence.

However, if a judge declares that there is a preponderance of evidence to show that a defendant is unfit to stand trial, then the defendant is imprisoned because federal law requires that inmates undergoing skill restoration treatment be interned in a federal prison hospital.

There are only three federal prison hospitals offering restorative treatment for male inmates, and the average wait time for a bed this year for men was 84 days, according to BOP data.

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Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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