Marin Independent Journal
Judge denies release for Auburn man in US riot case
A federal judge on Monday rejected efforts by a Northern California defendant in the Jan. 6 insurrection to have his charges dropped, to have his trial moved from Washington, D.C., to Sacramento and to be released pending trial because his mental state is suffering in jail.
In a 25-page opinion filed in court in Washington, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates effectively shot down all but one of the five motions filed in recent months on behalf of Sean McHugh, an Auburn construction worker scheduled to go to trial in April in connection with the Capitol riot.
The judge's findings follow previous, unsuccessful efforts by McHugh to have his trial moved out of Washington or have his charges dropped because of arguments that he could not receive a fair trial in a city that voted overwhelmingly for President Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
McHugh was indicted on 10 counts, including two counts of assaulting or resisting officers using a dangerous weapon and disorderly conduct with a dangerous weapon.
McHugh attorney Joseph Allen has argued the charges lack specifics and should be thrown out, and also has argued that pepper spray should not be considered a dangerous weapon.
McHugh is accused of using bear spray to spray officers and pushing a metal sign against police trying to hold back rioters during the certification of the Electoral College count that confirmed Biden's victory.
The judge noted that in other Jan. 6 cases courts “have consistently agreed that pepper spray or a metal contraption could be a dangerous weapon.”
The judge also rejected McHugh's efforts to have various counts tossed over arguments that they were duplicative or vague, and rejected for the second time a bid to have the trial moved west.
McHugh filed a motion last March seeking to have his trial moved to Michigan because media coverage of Jan. 6 supposedly tainted the jury pool and because D.C. residents may have strong feelings about what happened during the attack in their city.
The judge rejected that motion, and Bates on Monday refused McHugh's effort to instead have the trial moved to federal court in Sacramento based on the argument that the offenses he is charged with began and ended in Auburn, where he was arrested.
“The charges all relate to conduct that took place at the Capitol, which is in Washington, D.C.,” Bates wrote. “And each count of the indictment explicitly charges McHugh with an offense that took place in Washington, D.C.”
Bates also refused to grant McHugh's temporary release from a District jail pending trial, rejecting his argument that McHugh cannot adequately prepare for trial in custody and that his mental state is suffering in the jail.
The judge also rejected McHugh's argument that his family is suffering because he has been in custody for a year and a half, noting that part of the delay in McHugh going to trial stems from the fact that he has agreed to postponements.
The judge wrote that he has recently noted “every defendant's family suffers in some way or another due to that defendant's incarceration,” but that “the court certainly cannot grant every such defendant pretrial release from custody.”
And, the judge wrote, McHugh's previous attempt at winning release was rejected and McHugh “presents no reason why the factors weighing in favor of detention have changed since then.”
“As the government describes in depth, McHugh is charged with multiple violent felonies, including assaults on law enforcement; the weight of the evidence is strong (there is video evidence of his violent and disruptive behavior); and he `has a remarkably long and disturbing criminal history' including offenses that `occurred while he was on probation and being supervised,'” Bates wrote. “Those factors continue to weigh heavily in favor of pretrial detention.”
The only relief Bates offered McHugh came in an order to have prosecutors file a redacted version of McHugh's past criminal history, with the judge concluding that the government incorrectly accused McHugh of being arrested in 2015 in a “rape-related incident.”
“Specifically, the government asserted that his `criminal history includes ... three prior rape offenses,' and referenced a 2010 arrest that culminated in a misdemeanor plea as well as a 2015 arrest,” Bates wrote. “These characterizations were based on a pretrial services report stating that McHugh had been arrested for three rape offenses.
“In his reply to the government's detention response back in 2021, McHugh clarified that he had been arrested only twice for rape-related charges — once in 2003 and once in 2010 — and that the 2015 arrest was related to his 2010 offense and thus was not an arrest for a separate incident.”