Criminal Justice

Proud Boy Enrique Tarrio Is Having a Rough Time in Jail

Enrique Tarrio is asking to be released from D.C. jail to serve the remaining three months of his sentence in home confinement in Miami.
Enrique Tarrio is asking to be released from D.C. jail to serve the remaining three months of his sentence in home confinement in Miami. Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg
Enrique "Henry" Tarrio, the Miami-born former chairman of the far-right Proud Boys, was sentenced to 155 days in jail for the burning of a Black Lives Matter flag and carrying empty high-capacity firearm magazines in Washington, D.C. — a penalty that surprised his friends, family, and attorney after prosecutors had only recommended 90 days.

He has spent the past two months of the five-month sentence in a Washington, D.C., jail. And though Tarrio spent ten months in a federal prison camp in 2013 for selling stolen and mislabeled diabetic test kits, this time around he claims to be having an especially difficult time behind bars, reporting in court testimony and a legal petition that's he has stood in feces-filled water, inhaled toilet-paper smoke, and been slammed against concrete walls by guards.

"For the past four days I’ve had water and feces in my cell, and the officers don’t give me a way to clean that. I’ve had to clean other people’s feces with my own toilet paper," Tarrio told Judge Jonathan H. Pittman on Monday, November 15. "I’ve had cold food thrown into the water and feces on my floor. I don’t see that happening to other people."

In an emergency motion for compassionate release filed the week prior, Tarrio asked to be released from the D.C. jail to serve the remaining three months of his sentence in home confinement in Miami. The motion arose at a time when Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooter Kyle Rittenhouse, Trump strategist Steve Bannon, and insurrectionist Jacob "QAnon Shaman" Chansley are in the midst of court proceedings for assorted alleged crimes.


While public opinion regarding those cases has tended to cleave along political lines, the one-time leader of a notorious hate group that’s implicated in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Tarrio's plight doesn't immediately garner much sympathy. But if his claims are true, his experience underscores the inhumane conditions inside the U.S. prison system that inmate advocates have been protesting long before mostly white, conservative defendants raised the alarm.

"It’s been terrible at every step,” Tarrio’s mother, Zuny Duarte, tells New Times. "It’s been an emotional roller coaster with all the things he’s been going through since he got there. This has been like a ride in Hell."

During Monday's online court proceeding, Tarrio looked like a different person from the "Noble Lead" who at one time helmed not just Miami’s far-right but was acknowledged by Donald Trump when he infamously said, "Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," during a nationally televised debate with Joe Biden.

Tarrio appeared in an orange jumpsuit and handcuffs. His once clean-shaven head is now ringed with hair around a bald spot, and a thick beard poked out from behind a blue facemask. His trademark black Ray-Bans were replaced by special eyeglasses owing to Tarrio's photophobia, which causes him headaches and anxiety when exposed to artificial light.


During his remote testimony to Judge Pittman, Tarrio reported on the “horrendous” conditions he alleges exist within the D.C. Department of Corrections (DOC), which he compared to a Russian “gulag.” He testified that other inmates burned rolled-up toilet paper using electric sockets in their cells, and keep it burning throughout the night to light cigarettes. The smoke inhalation is particularly harmful to Tarrio, Durate explains, owing to long-term lung issues from contracting COVID-19. (The DOC admitted that paper-burning is an ongoing issue within the jail.)

The most visceral testimony from Tarrio, however, was his account of the literally shitty conditions in his cell, thanks to his cell neighbor, a “habitual flooder,” who regularly clogs his toilet in an act of protest.

Tarrio also testified to being placed in solitary confinement for the first month of his incarceration, spending 23 hours in his cell and only one hour outside — treatment the American Civil Liberties Union refers to as cruel, inhuman, and degrading. DOC rebutted that he was not placed in solitary confinement, but in protective custody, away from the general population for his safety.

A representative for D.C. DOC said during Monday's hearing that Tarrio was placed in protective custody upon his arrival in September during the regular 14-day COVID-19 intake process. Yet at the time of the hearing, 70 days into his sentence, Tarrio was still in a protective custody unit.

His mother says the seclusion has been particularly difficult for Tarrio, who is known for his sociable nature, which helped to catapult him to the top of the Proud Boys and give the organization national clout within the American right wing as he cozied up to high-profile figures in Trump's circle, including Bannon, Roger Stone, and Sebastian Gorka.

"He likes to be around people," Duarte explains. "He’s a talker. And in one hour you don’t have time to shower, use the phone for fifteen minutes, and wait fifteen minutes for a second phone call. There’s no time for anything."

In a bizarre excerpt from Tarrio’s motion, his attorney Lucas Dansie claims his client was slammed against a wall without cause by prison guards owing to his conviction for burning a Black Lives Matter flag.

“A number of correctional officers have openly exhibited their strong support for Black Lives Matter,” the motion asserts.

The ordeal has been especially difficult for Tarrio's family, which is operating his Westchester-based shirt-printing and merchandise business in his absence. Duarte says it pains her to hear that her 37-year-old son hasn’t been able to cut his hair, shave, or even trim his nails, which she says are now longer than her own.

In a November 1 letter to the D.C. DOC, the U.S. Marshals Service, which handles the transport of federal prisoners, blasted the agency for failing to maintain minimum federal standards for confinement and announced plans to remove 400 inmates from the jail. A U.S. District judge also held D.C. DOC in contempt last month for denying a January 6 defendant medical attention, and called for a civil-rights investigation into the department.

Though he appeared to question Tarrio's request for release — on the grounds that other inmates face the exact same conditions as he does — Judge Pittman said he would not rule from the bench on Monday and instead will decide by the end of this week whether Tarrio will serve out the remainder of his sentence at home or reduce it to the 90 days prosecutors recommended.

Duarte says she hopes the judge will allow Tarrio to come home, because she fears for his safety. (After Tarrio’s testimony, she says, Tarrio was moved to another unit of the jail where he can take advantage of education classes — something Duarte says she’d been calling the DOC and requesting every day for over a month, to no avail.)

“I understand that it’s a jail, not a golf club," she says. "But these people are human beings,  and from day one there’s been fear of retaliation for complaining."

During and after the hearing, Tarrio's detractors derided him for complaining about conditions in the jail, arguing, essentially, that if you do the crime, you do the time.
   
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Joshua Ceballos is staff writer for Miami New Times. He is a Florida International University alum and a born-and-bred Miami boy.
Contact: Joshua Ceballos