By Jody DiPerna
Pittsburgh Current Senior Contributor
Late on Thursday, February 11th, the District Court of the District of Columbia denied the government’s appeal of a detention order, freeing a Capitol Riot Suspect on bond.
Rachel Powell, 40, of Mercer County will be released on bond under supervision and with location monitoring. This late ruling affirms the ruling of magistrate judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan who, on Tuesday, ordered the release of Powell, a/k/a ‘Pink Hat Lady,’ after a detention hearing related to her actions in the Capitol riot.
On Wednesday afternoon, as much of the nation watched previously unseen security camera footage as part of the Senate impeachment trial of former-President Trump, assistant US attorney Elizabeth Aloi filed an appeal in the case of USA v. Rachel Powell in the District Court for the District of Columbia. In it, the government stated that “[T]here is no release condition or combination of release conditions that will reasonably assure the community’s safety,” or that Powell would reliably appear for future court dates. Today’s ruling points to the fact the court does not believe Powell poses a flight risk.
On January 6th, with six children ranging in age from 4 to 17 at home in Sandy Lake, Pennsylvania, Rachel Powell was in Washington, D.C., assaulting the Capitol. She was photographed and videotaped as she picked up a large, industrial-looking pipe and bashed it repeatedly into one of the windows of the Capitol Building. Later, she used a bullhorn to shout instructions to her fellow rioters on how to strategically “take” the Capitol. In her ad hoc leadership role, she also purported to have operative knowledge of the building layout and directed fellow rioters where to go. She took part in the violence that day and encouraged others to do so.
Judge Lenihan’s ruling in the Powell case appears to be at odds with her previous ruling in the case against another Capitol insurrectionist, Oakdale resident, Jordan Mink.
In the Mink detention hearing on January 29th, the judge ordered Mink to remain in custody until trial and she did so largely based on the destruction of the phone he had with him during the riot.
Mink could be seen in the photos at the Capitol holding a red cellphone (or a phone in a red case.) It was distinctive and jumped out in photos, much like Powell’s pink knit hat. However, in the days before his arrest, he purchased a new iPhone. He had that with him when he was arrested by the FBI. The red phone that he was carrying around at the Capitol? Nowhere to be found.
In her summation to Jorden Mink, the judge noted this key bit of evidence, saying:
“Can I impose conditions that you would abide by, that would reasonably assure your appearance and the safety of the community? I don’t think you are a risk of flight. I do find, however, that you did attempt to obstruct justice, simply because your phone has now mysteriously disappeared. I think that there is an issue that you would attempt to obstruct justice moving forward if you were released. The fact that you were involved in this crime against our democracy, and that you engaged in a violent attack on the United States Capitol, evidences to me nothing but a complete and total disregard for the government and for the rule of law. For that reason, I don’t think any conditions I would impose would be effective because I don’t think you would abide by them.”
Mink remains in the Butler County Jail.
During the detention hearing for Rachel Powell, FBI agent Carlos Fontanez stated that Powell’s phone pinged cell towers near the Capitol during the rioting there. Later, Powell’s attorney, Michael Engle, confirmed that he spoke with his client via her cell phone on February 4th, the day of her arrest.
Several hours later, when Rachel Powell pulled into the New Castle FBI office, she had with her directions written on pieces of paper and phone numbers written on her person. But she did not have her phone with her, nor was it in her car. Fontanez said that an iPhone box matching the serial or IMEI number of the phone owned by Powell was in the car. Engle indicated that “an experienced attorney” may have instructed his client to not bring her phone with her. At the time of the hearing and the ruling, the location of the phone was unknown.
There are nearly identical circumstances in both cases — a cell phone that was in use and pinged during the riot in DC and which each respective defendant got rid of before law enforcement could seize it.
In the Powell case, the prosecution also entered into evidence a photograph of several damaged, disassembled phones found at her home. Agent Fontanez said that the sim cards were removed and they were damaged to the point where it was almost impossible to retrieve data from them.
Photos of the demolished phones were entered into evidence and are included here. These photos are from the public Facebook page of writer Rebecca Solnit. This photo array also includes photos of three ‘go-bags’ or ‘bug-out-bags.’ Two were found in her home and one in her car.
Go-bags are just what they sound like — pre-packed bags or backpacks that can be grabbed quickly to go. There can be all kinds of reasons for a bag like this — having a sick relative who might need assistance in a hurry, or having a job that requires you to travel in without much warning. Another reason might be needing a grab bag at the ready if you need to hide.
In the days leading up to her arrest, Powell was certainly not where you would expect to find her — at home or at work. She was not technically wanted until late February 3rd, but prior to that she was certainly aware that the FBI was looking for her. She left her home and went to an undisclosed location.
On January 30, she dropped off her six minor children at her ex-husband’s home with no explanation. She didn’t leave a forwarding address or indicate when she would be back. The children remain in the custody of her ex-husband.
That was the last anybody not named Ronan Farrow heard from her. The New Yorker journalist talked to her on the phone for two hours for a story he wrote for the magazine, ‘A Pennsylvania Mother’s Path to Insurrection,’ published on February 1.
Three days later after the New Yorker story hit the internet, the FBI issued a warrant for her arrest and Powell’s attorney was able to contact her.
Hiding from law enforcement is not an indication of guilt. It is, however, an indication that a person is actually capable of and willing to hide from law enforcement.