By Spencer Ackerman
Over 100 personnel from the Justice Department’s Bureau of Prisons, as well as others from the Marshals Service, are preparing to mobilize to the streets of Washington, D.C., for confronting potential election-related unrest, according to a document acquired by The Daily Beast and confirmed by the BOP.
The mobilization suggests that the Justice Department is reprising its activities from June. Back then, in response to Black Lives Matter protests, it corralled law-enforcement personnel from lesser-known Justice Department components and deputized Department of Homeland Security personnel, ostensibly in the name of protecting federal property in D.C. Many of those personnel wore minimal insignia and were often kitted up in military-style body armor, intimidating demonstrators and sparking an outcry.
Dated Oct. 29 and titled a “Deployment Roster,” the Bureau of Prisons’ west coast regional director, Melissa Rios, detailed for a senior BOP official, Assistant Director Andre Matevousian, the “revised” mobilization of 110 security agents from a variety of federal prisons.
The personnel listed have tactical experience in dealing with prison disturbances. They are listed as hailing from SORT, BOP’s Special Operations Response Teams, or DCT, its Disturbance Control Teams. Many of the prisons where the listed officers work have active COVID-19 cases, raising the prospect of a coronavirus spread off of any deployment.
The document itself does not list where the prospective deployment is headed. But a knowledgeable congressional source said that senior Justice Department officials had requested BOP assemble a list of personnel that could be ready to go to Washington, D.C., for “issues related to the election.” Another congressional source familiar with the preparations corroborated that BOP might send others “after the election.”
“It was a disaster when the Department of Justice brought in BOP personnel during the George Floyd protests. They are not trained for this type of work and it takes them away from their primary duty to keep our federal prisons safe,” said the first congressional source. “Facilities on this list also have active COVID-19 cases or are located in COVID-19 hotspots. A decision to deploy BOP personnel to DC under these circumstances would put everyone’s safety at risk.”
BOP personnel have yet to deploy to the capital, both congressional sources said. The first source said BOP instructed its personnel to prepare to stay in D.C. for two weeks.
A spokesperson for BOP confirmed the deployment preparations. “Out of an abundance of caution, as it does before all major national events that have potential security concerns, BOP, like other components at the Department of Justice, is making preparations in the event BOP’s assistance is needed following the election. Currently, no BOP teams are deployed to any cities,” Emery Nelson told The Daily Beast.
It’s not just the elite prison guards tasked with corralling election-related protests. The U.S. Marshals Service, another component of both the Trump administration’s protest responses in D.C. and Portland, confirms to The Daily Beast that they’re preparing to mobilize as well—and not only for D.C.
“While the US Marshals Service generally does not discuss any potential enforcement activities, we can confirm that deputy US Marshals stand ready to respond to violent acts of civil disobedience in the District of Columbia and other locations around the nation,” a U.S. Marshals Service spokesperson told The Daily Beast.
On Friday, NBC reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection personnel have been alerted to prepare to head to D.C. to “protect Federal facilities and property if needed and to local law enforcement partners if requested.” Both ICE and CBP were part of the June show of force in front of federal buildings in the capitol, when the Justice Department assumed operational control by deputizing them as temporary U.S. Marshals.
The FBI indicated it would not play a similar role. Its current election guidance states that FBI headquarters will “provide a centralized location for assessing election-related threats, tracking status reports and significant complaints from FBI field offices, monitoring for indicators of a coordinated nationwide effort to disrupt the election process, providing guidance to FBI field offices, and coordinating an FBI response to any election-related incident.”
Concerns about the prospective deployment extend beyond the potential for election violence. There are active coronavirus cases inside many of the prisons where the listed personnel work.
At least 17 of them hail from a southern California corrections complex known as Victorville, where, according to the BOP’s website, 11 inmates and 43 staff are confirmed to have COVID-19. Twelve more, stationed at the Atwater prison in Merced County, guard 28 COVID-positive inmates. Five others work at the Terminal Island prison, where six inmates and three staff have COVID. Another 13 work at Lompoc, home to seven currently-COVID-positive staff. Seven others, from Los Angeles, work among three COVID-positive staff.
It is unclear whether BOP personnel outside of the western regional office have been requested to deploy. The Department of Justice, which initially referred comment to the Bureau of Prisons, did not comment by publication time.