It began without warning.
A Jan. 6 prisoner had emerged from his cell without a mask. When it was all over, the jail was in lockdown and several inmates had been pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and thrown into solitary confinement. Inmate tablets were quickly confiscated, but not before several prisoners had time to send text messages, exposing the brutal truth of what happened. Many of those messages were obtained by The Epoch Times. In exclusive interviews with The Epoch Times, the family members of several Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol breach prisoners share their stories.
The identities of those in the inmate text exchanges obtained by The Epoch Times have been redacted for fear that they would suffer further retaliation.
‘[Expletive] Just Went Down’
According to a text message sent by one Jan. 6 prisoner to a family member, “[expletive] just went down” at the Correctional Treatment Facility in Washington at roughly 9:46 a.m. on Sept. 5. One of the guards had just “assaulted McAbee because he wasn’t wearing a mask.”
The prisoner’s name is Ronald Colton McAbee. His wife, Sarah, described to The Epoch Times what happened.
Ronald had just been let out of his cell by a pod officer in order to receive his medications. Inmates, have to take their medications in front of the nurse to prove that they swallowed the pills, according to Sarah. The med cart was about 25 feet from the door of Ronald’s cell. When he walked out of the cell to take his medications, he wasn’t wearing his mask.
Lt. Crystal Lancaster began yelling at him and ordering him to put his mask on. He said he was going to get his medication and didn’t need his mask. It was after he had taken his medication that it’s alleged that Lancaster doused his face with OC spray.
While pepper spray and OC spray are essentially made using the same ingredients, the higher concentration of Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) is what sets them apart. A March 1994 report (pdf) issued by the U.S. Department of Justice acknowledges the more potent and potentially lethal properties of OC Spray when used outside of recommended guidelines or on someone with pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma.
With Ronald on the ground in pain, Lancaster ordered the pod officer to handcuff him. As McAbee was being handcuffed, Lancaster sprayed him again, point blank, in the face.
Sarah’s account is validated by the texts sent by other Jan. 6 prisoners to their family members.
By now, Sarah said other Jan. 6 prisoners had emerged from their cells. Three of them, Ron Sandlin, Bart Shively, and Ryan Nichols, began yelling at Lancaster, telling her to stop her assault on Ronald. Sandlin was then handcuffed. He and Ronald were taken away to solitary confinement. Shively and Nichols were also sprayed, cuffed, and placed in isolation pods. According to Sarah, there are no cameras in the isolation pod area.
“It’s very concerning because the guards can come in and do whatever they like to these people with no accountability,” she said.
Messages sent by two more Jan. 6 prisoners provide corroboration and more detail.
A History of Abuse and Sub-Human Conditions
Sarah said the facility has a long history of sub-human conditions. She also noted that Lancaster, notorious among Jan. 6 prisoners and their family members for being particularly vulgar and brutal, had been banned from the Jan. 6 pod for verbal abuse and for stealing the inmates’ mail.
“I don’t know if that ban was lifted or why she was in that pod,” she said.
Sarah’s account was again validated independently by the messages from other Jan. 6 prisoners.
According to Nicole Reffitt, the targeted abuse of Jan. 6 prisoners is nothing new at the “D.C. Gulag.” Her husband, Guy Reffitt, has suffered there for nearly 20 months. Guy was the first Jan. 6 defendant to go to trial and the first one that they tried to charge with the domestic terrorism enhancement, she said.
“Luckily, the judge did not grant that,” Nicole told The Epoch Times, noting that her husband never entered the Capitol building, touched anyone, or damaged anything. “He was still sentenced to seven and a half years. We’re still trying to wrap our brains around that.
“I have been unable to talk to my husband.”
She noted that the tablets the prisoners use to communicate with their family members were suddenly confiscated.
“He has not been able to send me a message,” Nicole said. “The last message he sent me was that they were being assaulted and officers had taken off their body cams.”
A text message from a prisoner’s family member confirmed that the inmates’ tablets had been confiscated.
She also revealed that the prisoners’ electronic grievance system has been turned off, and they haven’t been able to file grievances with the jail for more than a month. This means that none of the incidents of abuse are being documented, and no one is being held accountable. Even the paper grievances filed by prisoners are “torn up in front of their faces.”
The history of abuse was validated by the message of another Jan. 6 prisoner.
Sarah said her husband was in his cell drenched in OC spray for more than 12 hours before he was taken to medical and “thrown into a hot shower.” Afterward, guards made him put the same OC spray-soaked clothing back on before putting him back in his cell. Four hours later, it began to reactivate on his skin and in his eyes. He begged to be allowed to shower with soap and water. He was told to “suck it up.” It wasn’t until about midnight that he was allowed to shower with soap and water and put on clean clothes.
Mistaken Identity or Intentional Retaliation?
Despite repeated pleas to U.S. senators, representatives, the Bureau of Prisoners, and U.S. marshals, Bonnie Nichols says nothing has changed. As reported by The Epoch Times in July, her husband Ryan faces 11 charges, including multiple infractions with the words “Deadly or Dangerous Weapon” attached. The “Deadly or Dangerous Weapon” was pepper spray.
In the early morning hours of Sept. 7, Bonnie received a heartbreaking series of text messages from Ryan describing both his physical and mental state after he was assaulted by Lancaster and thrown into solitary confinement. He believes that he was attacked by Lancaster in a case of mistaken identity.
However, Bonnie is convinced that the assault on her husband was a matter of intentional retaliation for the lawsuit that was filed on Aug. 10 “that named her specifically.”
According to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. 2241 and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief (pdf), Lancaster—the guard in charge of the solitary confinement area known as “The Hole”—”verbally and mentally abuses inmates.”
“She also oversees officers and guards who do the same, and is suspected of bringing drugs into the prison,” the complaint reads. “The presence of drugs in the prison was confirmed by both the U.S. Marshals’ report and the testimony of the DC City Council Chair on the Judiciary and Public Safety.”
According to reports, one correctional officer was already arrested at the D.C. facility in February for allegedly accepting bribes to bring drugs, knives, and cell phones to inmates. There have also been multiple drug overdoses and two drug-related deaths “that further corroborate the presence of drugs in the DC Jail.”
Bonnie also noted that Lancaster had been banned from the Jan. 6 pod “for weeks.” She would taunt the inmates, calling them names such as “white cracker [expletive]” and telling them that she’s going to “[expletive] your daddy and give you a little sister.”
The last time Ryan was thrown in solitary was apparently in retaliation for a grievance he had filed. Because he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder because of the traumas suffered during his military service, he was placed on suicide watch. However, he wasn’t allowed to see a nurse or receive mental health counseling. They simply put him in a straight jacket and “strapped him to a bench.”
Now he’s in solitary again. The pod is still on lockdown. Because he wasn’t allowed to shower for 48 hours after the assault, he has chemical burns all over his body from the OC spray. The emergency response team told him to “stop being a [expletive].”
“I’m angry at this point over what’s continuing to happen,” Bonnie told The Epoch Times. “It’s like this jail is untouchable. It’s aggravating that these men are still in the same situation after two years.”
Aside from the abuse and abhorrent conditions, Bonnie said her husband’s “discovery was taken from him.”
All of the work he has been doing on his case, all of the motions, everything he has been working on for his case for the past 19 months was on a thumb drive that has now gone missing from his cell for a second time. The guards claim to know nothing—again.
‘There Will Be Hell to Pay’
Don Nichols, Ryan’s father, was with Bonnie when she spoke with The Epoch Times.
Don had been on the phone all morning. He contacted the director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service. He has been advised that “the best bet is to get a hold of your Senators and Congressmen.”
“[Rep.] Louie Gohmert has already done everything he can do,” Don told The Epoch Times, praising the Texas Republican congressman for his dedication to the plight of Jan. 6 prisoners.
Bonnie said Gohmert “has been doing more than anyone else has.”
Don wants to know why so many Jan. 6 prisoners have been charged with using a “dangerous or deadly weapon” by using pepper spray but guards can douse “pre-trial detainees who have not been convicted of any crime multiple times before they’re shackled and after they’re shackled” and suffer no consequences.
“I ask one simple question,” Don said. “Can I file criminal charges against Lt. Lancaster on behalf of my son? That’s the question I want someone who’s in charge of this system to answer. Because I’m willing to fly to Washington D.C. on whatever day saying I am ready to file charges against each and every person who perpetrated this crime against these men.”
Bonnie asked, “How much can a human being take until it’s too much?”
She recalled how several Jan. 6 defendants who weren’t even incarcerated had already committed suicide. Christopher Stanton Georgia, 53, of Fulton County, Georgia, died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound just days after the Capitol breach. At 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, just weeks before his sentencing, 37-year-old Matthew Perna went into his garage and hung himself. On July 20, 47-year-old Mark Roderick Aungst of South Williamsport, Pennsylvania, became the third Jan. 6 defendant to kill himself.
“I am telling you,” Bonnie said, her voice breaking, “if my husband takes his life over this, there will be hell to pay.”
The President Made Hate a ‘Patriotic Duty’
According to Joseph McBride, the attorney representing Ryan and several other Jan. 6 prisoners and defendants, the prison guards are retaliating against Ryan because of the habeas petition filed against Lancaster.
“There is no other explanation,” McBride told The Epoch Times. “Our plan is to argue for his release today.”
According to a motion (pdf) filed on the morning of Sept. 8 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, McBride petitioned “the Court to dismiss all charges against” Ryan “for the reason that the government, in the person of the President, has intentionally and irreparably poisoned the jury pool.”
Citing 31 separate statements President Joe Biden made against MAGA Republicans during his 24-minute speech on Sept. 1, McBride said that “the President has incited the entire nation to hate the January 6th defendants as a patriotic duty.”
According to the Defendant’s Emergency Motion for Immediate Pre-Trial Release and Request for an Emergency Hearing (pdf), McBride also “moves the Court to order the immediate temporary release” of Ryan “from pretrial confinement” because the D.C. Jail is presently retaliating against the defendant for filing a civil case against it, the length of the defendant’s pretrial confinement is a violation of his due process rights, and the defendant is being held in conditions of confinement that violate his civil and human rights.
McBride has also petitioned the court (pdf) for a change of venue.
Nowhere Else to Go
In the aftermath of the assault against their loved ones, each Jan. 6 family member is dealing with the situation in their own way. Sarah has requested the CCTV video footage so she can see for herself what happened. Bonnie and Don want answers. Nicole is heading to Washington “to stand in vigil with some other 1-6ers outside the jail” to sing with the prisoners.
Nightly without fail, they sing the National Anthem, Nicole said.
“It can be intimidating and very scary,” she said. “We’re fighting the sheer force of the U.S. government, and we’re just regular people. It’s overwhelming to think of the fight we have ahead of us and have been fighting for going on 20 months. It’s scary, but it’s important. I am going to take a leap of faith and go to D.C. because I don’t know where else to go.”
Eric Glover, general counsel for the District of Columbia Department of Corrections, and Director of the Department of Corrections Thomas Faust didn’t respond to requests for comment by press time.