Capitol riot: Champaign County man ordered released from jail

Donovan Crowl
Donovan Crowl

A Champaign County man accused in the Jan. 6 Washington, D.C., Capitol riot was ordered released from jail pending trial Friday during a detention hearing.

The decision to release Donovan Crowl, 50, who has been jailed in connection to the riot since his arrest in January, was difficult, U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta said during the hearing.

“Do not take this as a sign of my views of the seriousness of the crimes you’ve been charged with or your conduct on that day,” the judge told Crowl as he disclosed his decision. “It will ultimately be up to a jury whether you violated the law or not.”

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As part of his decision, Mehta put strict bond conditions for Crowl to follow including placing him on house arrest and requiring GPS monitoring. He told Crowl that if he violates the conditions of his release “in any form” that he would not hesitate to send him back to jail.

Crowl is charged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding (and aiding and abetting), destruction of government property (and aiding and abetting) and restricted building or grounds.

He is accused of conspiring and participating in a riot designed to prevent Congress from certifying the presidential election for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

He is charged with nine other defendants in the case, including fellow Champaign County resident Jessica Watkins.

Prosecutors also say that Crowl and Watkins are members of the Oath Keepers, a group that believes the government has been taken over “by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”

Prosecutors said Crowl held a leadership role with the Oath Keepers, while the defense denied Crowl being associated with the Oath Keepers at all.

Watkins remains locked up pending her trial, but Crowl isn’t the first in the case to be released home pending trial. Other defendants in the case have been released by Mehta, including Virginia resident Thomas Caldwell, who was also released on strict bond conditions after the judge first denied him.

Also, prosecutors did not seek detention for Warren County couple Sandra and Bennie Parker, who are charged in the same case as Crowl.

During a hearing Friday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office tried to convince Mehta that Crowl is a danger to the community and a flight risk. They pointed to text messages between him and Watkins that the two would go underground if Biden became president and would fight American authorities.

In a court filing ahead of the hearing, prosecutors detailed the messages.

“This conversation included defendant Crowl and co-defendant Watkins, colluding with others, to wage a guerilla war against the United States, and imitating the strategies of the “NVA,” also known as the Army of North Vietnam. The NVA killed thousands of American soldiers in guerilla warfare from the 1950s through the 1970s. The defendant needs to be taken at his own word. He continues to pose a danger to the United States and its citizens, now more than ever since the transfer of power has been completed.”

Defense attorney Carmen Hernandez argued that it was predominately Watkins doing the texting. Hernandez also noted that family members of Crowl’s fought in the Vietnam war.

Prosecutors also pointed to new evidence that they say showed Crowl and Watkins a part of a group that was acting aggressively towards Capitol police. Hernandez countered that Crowl was at the back of the group and could not see what was happening at the front of the pack.

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During the hearing, the exchanges between Hernandez and Mehta became contentious several times. Hernandez repeatedly objected to the state’s arguments and the way the hearing was being conducted. Mehta threatened to end the hearing if Hernandez continued questioning the court’s procedure.

Crowl will be due back in court on April 6 for a status conference.

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