Capitol riot: Man charged with Champaign County duo previously worked for FBI

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 file photo, supporters of President Donald Trump gather outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/Shafkat Anowar)

Credit: Shafkat Anowar

Credit: Shafkat Anowar

A man charged as a co-defendant in a federal case that accuses two Champaign County residents of planning and taking part in the Jan. 6 Capitol riots is asking a judge to release him from jail on bond.

Thomas Caldwell, 66, of Virginia, is charged alongside Jessica Watkins, 38, and Donovan Crowl, 50, both of Champaign County. They are facing charges of conspiracy, obstruction of an official proceeding, destruction of government property and unlawful entry on restricted building or grounds in United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

The indictment filed in the case alleges the three were co-conspirators who planned to disrupt the Congressional proceedings that sought to certify the presidential election in favor of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The indictment also alleges the three acted on those plans and illegally entered the Capitol grounds.

The government also argued that the three were members of the Oathkeepers, a loosely organized group of militia who believes “the federal government has been co-opted by a shadowy conspiracy that is trying to strip American citizens of their rights.”

However, in a court document by Thomas Caldwell’s defense team asking a judge to release him from jail pending trial, an attorney says Caldwell is a disabled veteran with top-secret security clearance who previously worked as a section chief for the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2009 to 2010.

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“At (a previous) hearing, Caldwell was informed that the Government at that time asserted he is a member of a group called the Oathkeepers, which has been denied,” the motion for release says. “It is reasonably believed the government, by this time, has confirmed that he (is) not a member of this group. Additionally, Caldwell was informed that the government at that time asserts he ‘forced entry’ into the United States Capitol. Caldwell denied this assertion and proffers that he was at all times with individuals who will testify that he never entered the U.S. Capitol Building and that his physical limitations would have prevented him from forcibly entering any building or storming past any barrier.”

An email sent to Caldwell’s attorney, Thomas Plofchan, wasn’t returned Tuesday.

The motion says that “It is noteworthy that despite reports of over 100,000 photo and video recordings of the incidents on January 6, 2021, the government has not identified any photo or video that shows Caldwell in the U.S. Capitol Building, on the grounds after overcoming any barrier or other evidence of restriction, in the vicinity of any damaged property, or in any chamber of Congress. Further, the government has not identified any time, place or specific content of any alleged agreement that Caldwell allegedly participated in that would meet the definition of a conspiracy.”

The indictment in the case says that Watkins, Crowl and Caldwell messaged and texted each other leading up to the Jan. 6 riot. It also says that Caldwell sent messages on Facebook that said “We are surging forward. Doors breached.” The indictment said about 20 minutes later he sent a Facebook message that said “Inside.”

But the defense questioned this evidence in their motion.

“Further, while not attempting to try the matter at a bail hearing, the government’s mention of an alleged Facebook posting stating the word ‘inside’ provides no basis to suggest Caldwell actually posted the messages, or was engaged in doing anything other than merely relaying news that was circulating through the crowd that some people were inside. While the government’s conclusions show a very active collective imagination, the government does not provide any evidence to suggest that Caldwell was previously a risk to the community or that he will be one should he be released from jail.”

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The defense said the photos and electronic messages on social media have not been vetted for accuracy.

“There is also no danger to the community,” the defense wrote. “Outside of his time as a decorated U.S. Military officer, Caldwell is a life-long resident of Clarke County, Virginia where he is a property owner. He has no criminal record or any history of violence or breaking the law. In fact, just the opposite; he has been decorated for service in which he has placed himself in harm’s way to protect others and the interests of the United States.”

According to the docket in the case, prosecutors have until Friday to respond to the motion for release. The defense then will have an opportunity to respond to prosecutors before a ruling is made.

As for the Champaign County pair, their case has not seen movement since they were indicted Jan. 27. Watkins was previously listed as an inmate in the Montgomery County Jail and then the Butler County Jail, but no longer is listed as an inmate in a local jail. Crowl is now listed as an inmate in the Butler County Jail.

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