SC Citadel cadet accused in capitol riot appeals travel ban

Elias Irizarry at the US Capitol building on Jan.  6, 2021.

Elias Irizarry at the US Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

US federal court records

A Citadel cadet from York County accused of participating in the Jan. 6 capitol riots in Washington DC is appealing a judge’s ruling forbidding him to go to Europe this summer on a study abroad trip that includes visiting a sensitive NATO cybersecurity site near the Russian border.

At a May 3 hearing, US District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan denied a request from Elias Irizarry, 20, to go to Estonia on a three-week school sponsored summer trip from July 11 to July 30 while free on federal bail.

Ordinarily, defendants free on bond in criminal cases must surrender their passports and must get permission from a judge to leave the country.

Irizarry’s lawyer filed a notice of appeal of the judge’s denial to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals on Thursday.

Irizarry, 20, a Trump supporter who was carrying a metal pipe and wearing a MAGA hat during the riot, according to photos from the day of the riot, was arrested in March 2021 and has been free on bond since then.

Irizary was one of some 800 people arrested in the Jan. 6 riot, sparked by election fraud falsehoods that were echoed by then President Donald Trump and his associates. The rioters tried to prevent Congress from certifying the election of President Joe Biden.

Irizarry faces eight misdemeanor charges including violent entry and disorderly conduct at the capitol among other charges. He has plead not guilty.

During the May 3 hearing, Judge Chutkan expressed astonishment that a defendant free on bond, who is charged with a crime where evidence showed he was part of a mob trying to stop the peaceful transfer of power, would try to go on a work-study vacation that would take him to a high security government installation in a northern European country that borders Russia.

The cyber military defense installation Irizarry would visit is the NATO Cybersecurity Center, according to his court records.

“He is facing federal charges in one of the most serious and consequential actions in this country in over 100 years,” Chutkan said.

“I’m not going to allow him unsupervised to go off for three weeks to visit NATO cybersecurity sites,” she said. The Capitol riot was the equivalent of “an attempt to overthrow the government,” she said

Exhibits in Irizarry’s request to go abroad said he and his group of Citadel students intended to visit the US Embassy and the NATO cybersecurity installation.

The Citadel, where Irizarry is a political science major and is vice-president of the Citadel Russian-area Studies Club, gave the 20-year-old aa $2,500 scholarship to go on the Estonia trip.

At the May 3 hearing, Chutkan also noted that Irizarry has not sought to resolve his case and that he was trying to accumulate extra credits in a summer program to graduate from the Citadel early, she said.

“The urgency in this case should not be for Mr. Irizarry to graduate early. He has neither entered a plea or set a trial date — and yet he wants to travel to Estonia. I think Mr. Irizarry needs to refocus his priorities,” she said.

Irizarry now has a June 1 court appearance before Judge Chutkan at which he may say he is willing to plead guilty or wants a trial.

It is unclear whether Irizarry’s appeal will delay his decision to plead or seek a trial.

Federal prosecutors declined to comment Friday on Irizarry’s appeal to overturn the travel ban.

Citadel spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett declined comment Friday on Irizarry’s effort to appeal but said the school takes legal matters into account regarding student discipline.

Efforts to reach Irizarry’s lawyer, Eugene Ohm, a federal public defender, by email for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

Co-defendant already guilty

A friend of Irizarry who was also charged after the two were allegedly together at the capitol, Elliot Bishai, plea guilty on April 25. Court testimony and records state prosecutors say Bishai and Irizarry took photos and videos inside the capitol and sat atop statues after entering with hundreds of others through a broken window.

Bishai is slated to be in federal court on July 29, while Irizarry would like to be in Estonia.

A third suspect from North Carolina who was in the Civil Air Patrol with Irizarry and Bishai was also charged.

In December, the same judge, Chutkan, allowed Irizarry to travel to Germany over the Christmas holiday on a three-day family trip with his mother.

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Andrew Dys covers breaking news and public safety for The Herald, where he has been a reporter and columnist since 2000. He has won 51 South Carolina Press Association awards for his coverage of crime, race, justice, and people. He is author of the book “Slice of Dys” and his work is in the US Library of Congress.

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