Cowboys for Trump leader released from jail pending trial

FILE - In this March 12, 2019, file photo, Cowboys for Trump leader and Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, center, talks with Republican New Mexico state Rep. Candy Ezzell of Roswell, N.M., at a protest against gun control and pro-abortion rights legislation outside the New Mexico State Capitol, in Santa Fe, N.M. A New Mexico county official who runs a group called "Cowboys for Trump" who had vowed to return to Washington after last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol to place a flag on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk was arrested by the FBI on Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021. Griffin was arrested on charges of illegally entering the U.S. Capitol. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee, File) (Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SANTA FE, N.M. – Cowboys for Trump founder Couy Griffin is headed home to New Mexico after nearly three weeks in a Washington jail, after a judge on Friday said she will trust Griffin to show up for trial in connection with the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell on Friday reversed a magistrate judge's prior detention order that described Griffin as a flight risk.

Griffin denies federal charges that he knowingly entering barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent to disrupt government as Congress considered Electoral College results.

Continued incarceration pending trial might have left Griffin in jail for longer than the one-year maximum sentence amid pandemic-related court delays, Howell said.

Griffin is banned from visiting Washington outside of court proceedings, must surrender his passport and must not possess a firearm.

More than 150 people have been charged in federal court with crimes following the Jan. 6 riot.

In releasing Griffin, the judge said she weighed Griffin's unrepentant appearance among the riotous crowd at the Capitol and vows to return and plant a flag on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk against his apparently candid subsequent interactions with the FBI and no obvious disdain toward the judiciary. She noted repeatedly that Griffin on Jan. 6 did not carry weapons, commit violence or enter the U.S. Capitol.

“I appreciate that the charge here is that he disregarded signage about restricted areas of the Capitol on Jan. 6. But his subsequent cooperation with law enforcement showed that he is not a person who has a categorical disdain and disregard for any and every government act or authority,” Howell said.

Griffin, an elected commissioner in Otero County, has led the Cowboys for Trump group in horseback parades through cities across the country in support of Donald Trump.

Griffin was arrested Jan. 17 in Washington — days after announcing during a public meeting in Alamogordo that he would return to Washington with guns at the ready in opposition to Biden’s election and inauguration.

Griffin says the guns were a self-defense precaution against recent death threats — and that he ultimately left them with friends from Pennsylvania.

Prosecutors say Griffin is a flight risk because has advocated the violent overthrow of the U.S. government on multiple occasions. A magistrate judge noted Griffin's history of threatening comments, racial invective, access to firearms and vows that Biden would never be president.

Howell had a different take, saying that Griffin's status as an elected official in New Mexico with child-support obligations weigh against continued incarceration.

“There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he poses a risk of danger to the community in New Mexico,” she said.

Griffin last year was barred from in-person visits with his son following social media posts that have generated threats and for refusing to abide by COVID-19 mask requirements.

Current custody terms are unclear. Griffin continued to openly flout the state’s mask requirement at a public meeting in January as a county commissioner.

Colleagues on the Otero County commission have called on Griffin to resign in the aftermath of the Capitol siege.

State election regulators recently sued Griffin over his refusal to register Cowboys for Trump as a political group, as he agreed upon in arbitration. Griffin says the group is a for-profit business and that he worries about contributors being identified and harassed.