- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The mother of a U.S. Capitol riot suspect dubbed the “zip-tie guy” is unfairly isolated in a Washington jail because she supports former President Trump, her attorney said Wednesday, raising more questions in a case where prosecutors have acknowledged some of the accusations lodged against the pair were exaggerated.

The false narrative surrounding “the zip-tie guy,” whose real name is Eric Munchel, is one of several erroneous reports from the Jan. 6 storming of the U.S. Capitol that live on despite the record having been corrected. For Mr. Munchel, it helps keep him and his mother Lisa Eisenhart in solitary confinement and denied bail.

During the mayhem at the Capitol on that day, Mr. Munchel was photographed hopping a guardrail in the Senate chamber dressed in tactical gear while holding a taser and a fistful of plastic zip-tie handcuffs.

Media pundits and prosecutors seized on the presence of zip ties, speculating that Mr. Munchel and others planned to take Congress members hostage.

The Justice Department later conceded in a court filing that the pair found the restraints on a table inside the Capitol building. The filing said Mr. Munchel and his mother took the zip ties to ensure the Capitol Police couldn’t use them on rioters.

The Justice Department also acknowledged that Ms. Eisenhart warned her son not to carry the zip ties.

Mr. Munchel and his mom each face one count of entering a restricted building and disorderly conduct, among the lesser counts facing Capitol riot suspects.

So far, more than 300 defendants face charges. Although most are charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, a few face more serious offenses.

At least 18 suspects have been charged with conspiracy, alleging they coordinated with others to attack the Capitol. More than 20 have been charged with destroying government property and 40 have been arrested for assault on law enforcement officers, a crime that carries a jail sentence of up to 20 years.

The zip-tie intentions of the mother-and-son marauders, however, are not clear. The prosecutors said Mr. Munchel and his mom “followed after” two Capitol Police officers while carrying the restraints.

The court papers also note that Mr. Munchel and Ms. Eisenhart carried firearms into Washington, despite the District’s strict gun laws. They left behind the weapons when they entered the Capitol building out of fear of going to prison. They stashed the guns in “tactical bags” outside the Capitol, according to court documents.

Nonetheless, prosecutors claimed the pair intended to take hostages while pushing to keep them in custody.

During a lengthy detention hearing in January before a federal judge in Mr. Munchel’s home state of Tennessee, prosecutors warned that the restraints could have been used on lawmakers.

“There is every reason to think the defendant and his mother would have put those flexicuffs to use if they found lawmakers,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Schrader said.

Mr. Schrader pushed the judge to hold the pair until their trial.

Despite pleas from prosecutors, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey S. Frensley ordered their release, saying neither defendant has an extensive criminal history, and they are not serious flight risks. Judge Frensley also noted that he could craft conditions that would guarantee their appearance at trial, despite the “emotional” arguments from Mr. Schrader.

But a D.C. federal judge stayed that release, pending her review. The case ultimately found its way to U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who ruled that the pair couldn’t be safely released into the community.

Judge Lamberth based his decision on statements they made to local media, including expressing a willingness to commit violence and even die to stop President Biden’s election.

“The Court takes Eisenhart at her word,” wrote Judge Lamberth, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. “She, like her son, invoked the American Revolution, indicating support for a violent revolt.”

Ms. Eisenhart is being held in jail at a security level that is essentially solitary confinement, her attorney Gregory S. Smith told Judge Lamberth. He slammed her confinement as “punishment before trial” and accused prosecutors of political motivation.

Mr. Smith said it was “undeniable” that the decision to hold Capitol riot suspects at the maximum security level will “disproportionality affect” supporters of Mr. Trump.

“I don’t think we can ignore that,” he said. “The fact that this rule is being imposed by officials in the one jurisdiction that voted most strongly against that same candidate will likely be viewed by great skepticism by much of the public who will view this as pretrial punishment.”

Ms. Eisenhart is housed alone and is shackled when she is outside of her cell, for only five hours a week, Mr. Smith said.

“Justice demands that she be taken out of solitary confinement under these circumstances,” he continued. Solitary confinement “is extraordinarily harsh and the psychological impact of being kept in solitary for even a relatively short period of time is significant.”

Leslie A. Goemaat, arguing on behalf of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, said it was fair to consider the Capitol rioters a maximum security risk.

“Here we have this incredibly unusual circumstance where every single one of the Jan. 6 detainees participated, at its core, in some of the criminal conduct and that criminal conduct was the storming and occupation of the U.S. Capitol,” she said.

Judge Lamberth said he would consider the motion, but also questioned whether he had the authority to spring Ms. Eisenhart out of solitary confinement. Such decisions usually fall to the Department of Corrections, he said.

Mr. Munchel appeared by phone during the hearing because his housing unit is under quarantine because of COVID-19 related concerns, his attorney said.

The next hearing in the case is scheduled for April 13.

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