A federal judge has ordered the release of video footage from inside the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6 after Capitol Police unsuccessfully argued to keep it hidden.
According to Buzzfeed News, the footage was ordered released by U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell, who rejected arguments by the Capitol Police and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that releasing the video would somehow compromise building security.
“In the latest case, prosecutors argued that revealing the location and vantage points of more cameras could help ‘bad actors’ trying to plan some future assault on the building,” Buzzfeed’s Zoe Tillman wrote. But Howell “concluded that argument was too speculative, however, and that the public had a strong interest in seeing videos that formed the basis for a recent plea deal.”
“The clips cover a period of about 15 minutes on Jan. 6 — between 2:25 p.m. and 2:40 p.m. — in different locations inside the Capitol,” Tillman reported. “They show rioters streaming through open doors and broken windows at an entrance on the Senate side; crowds of people walking into the Crypt, standing in a large crowd, and eventually dispersing; and, finally, rioters exiting as US Capitol Police officers in riot gear gather at the Senate entrance point to stand guard as a mob that’s outside looks in through the broken windows.”
Tillman reported that the government referenced the videos in a case against a Tennessee man named Eric Torrens who copped a plea deal with prosecutors Aug. 19, agreeing to one count of parading, picketing, or demonstrating illegally inside the Capitol Building itself, which is a misdemeanor. He admitted to prosecutors that he did enter the building and walked around inside.
In court papers, federal prosecutors said that surveillance cameras in the Capitol captured Torrens’ entry into the building and his movement once inside. Prosecutors also said they had obtained four additional videos tied to Torrens’ case to include one showing him saying, “We’re going in!” Those clips were also released on Tuesday under Howell’s order.
During a plea hearing, Howell “noted that there was a presumption in favor of access to judicial proceedings and that the public had an interest in materials that were submitted in court, that judges relied on in making decisions,” Tillman wrote.
Government prosecutors argued that the surveillance videos should remain hidden from the public because releasing them would “compromise the security of the United States Capitol and those who work there.”
“This footage, when combined with other footage from nearby cameras, could be used to track individual rioters moving through the building thereby creating a visual pathway which other bad actors could use in planning their breach point and pathway for future attacks,” prosecutors noted in court filings.
Howell disagreed, however, and ruled in favor of attorneys representing a group of media organizations that had sued for the release of the footage, rejecting the government’s national security claims. Also, the attorneys noted that prosecutors had selectively released surveillance footage in other cases related to the Jan. 6 riot.
“Hundreds of cases have arisen from the events of January 6, with new cases being brought and pending cases being resolved by plea agreement every week,” Howell noted in her ruling. “The public has an interest in understanding the conduct underlying the charges in these cases, as well as the government’s prosecutorial decision-making both in bringing criminal charges and resolving these charges by entering into plea agreements with defendants.”
A clip that Tillman posted online shows crowds of people streaming into the Capitol Building, some through windows that had been broken out. The people depicted in the video footage do not appear violent.