The participant in the January 6 US Capitol riots nicknamed the “QAnon Shaman” is negotiating a possible plea deal with prosecutors, after prison psychologists found he suffers from a variety of mental illnesses, his attorney said.
In an interview, defence lawyer Albert Watkins said that officials at the federal Bureau of Prisons, or BOP, have diagnosed his client Jacob Chansley with transient schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety.
The BOP’s findings, which have not yet been made public, suggest Chansley’s mental condition deteriorated due to the stress of being held in solitary confinement at a jail in Alexandria, Virginia, Watkins said.
“As he spent more time in solitary confinement...the decline in his acuity was noticeable, even to an untrained eye,” Watkins said.
He said Chansley’s 2006 mental health records from his time in the US Navy show a similar diagnosis to the BOP’s.
A spokesman for the US attorney’s office declined to comment on the case. Chansley is one of the most recognisable of the hundreds of Donald Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol after the then-president in a fiery speech falsely claimed that his November election defeat was the result of fraud.
Chansley, of Arizona, was photographed inside the Capitol wearing a horned headdress, shirtless and heavily tattooed.
He is a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory. He faces charges including civil disorder and obstructing an official proceeding. Watkins did not say what Chansley was considering pleading guilty to, but defendants negotiating plea deals typically seek to plead to a less serious charge to reduce their potential prison sentences.
Watkins said authorities will need to determine how Chansley can get access to the treatment he needs to “actively participate in his own defence.”
Pleading guilty to a charge negates the need for a trial, but defendants still have to be declared mentally competent to do so.
Watkins said the BOP’s evaluation of his client did not declare Chansley to be mentally incompetent, and he does not expect Chansley to be ordered to undergo what is known as competency restoration treatment.
Watkins said his client has expressed some delusions. “What we’ve done is we’ve taken a guy who is unarmed, harmless, peaceful...with a pre-existing mental vulnerability of significance, and we’ve rendered him a chocolate soup mess,” Watkins said.
Federal prosecutors have arrested more than 535 people on charges of taking part in the violence, which saw rioters battle police, smash windows and send members of Congress and then-vice president Mike Pence running for safety.
About 20 defendants so far have pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the attack, according to a government tally.
Chansley is jailed as he awaits trial, after prosecutors convinced a federal judge he remains a danger if released.
US district judge Royce Lamberth in May ordered him to undergo a competency evaluation.
As of July 5, he was one of 188 men and women undergoing an initial mental health evaluation to determine if they are competent to stand trial, according to BOP data.
The BOP in 2017 was faulted by the justice department’s inspector general for its use of special housing units to confine inmates with mental illness, and the BOP agreed to place limits on the amount of time inmates remain in restrictive housing and to ensure they have meaningful human contact.
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