Calling him a leader and instigator who went to Washington, D.C., ready for a fight, a federal magistrate judge ordered a Shaler substitute teacher who participated in the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection to be held in custody pending trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey said on Tuesday that Robert Morss, 28, is not a substantial flight risk, but that he does pose a potential danger to the community and therefore should remain incarcerated.
“Mr. Morss came prepared for a fight that day. He didn’t stumble onto the violence, he planned for it,” Harvey said. “He did not just cheer on the violence. He was not just an idle participant.”
Prosecutors have painted Morss, a recent graduate of Penn State University who previously served in the U.S. Army, as a leader during the rioting that day. According to the criminal complaint against him, Morss can be seen in video trying to breach police lines, including organizing a shield wall with other rioters in a violent attack on officers inside the Lower West Tunnel of the Capitol.
He is seen trying to grab an officer’s baton, and trying to take an officer’s helmet visor. Citing video provided by the prosecution, Harvey outlined Morss’ behavior throughout that afternoon, beginning at 2:09 p.m.
“He was calm, confident, bold, ready, willing and able to take charge,” Harvey said. “All things you might expect from an Army Ranger with battlefield experience.”
Morss is charged with two misdemeanors and seven felonies, including assault, resisting or impeding officers, civil disorder, robbery of personal property of the United States — for taking a shield and attempting to steal a baton and fencing from officers — and obstruction of an official proceeding.
Morss’ defense attorney asked that her client be released pending trial — offering that his mother, who has moved from Nevada to Pittsburgh to help him, could take custody of him.
Despite having no previous arrest record, a history of military service, as well as volunteerism in college, Harvey said that Morss’ behavior during the riot outweighs his positive characteristics.
“It appears he’s willing to use his training or experience to organize the rioters on Jan. 6 — making their actions more effective, forceful and violent,” the judge said.
He noted that Morss went to the Capitol that day carrying a knife, scissors and tourniquet, and wearing an armored tactical vest.
“I don’t know why anyone would need any of those items — including body armor — if they were planning to attend a peaceful protest,” Harvey said.
Futher, the judge said that while text messages Morss sent after the attack express remorse, Harvey said it sounded more like remorse for getting caught versus what he’d done.
The judge said that he saw no repudiation from Morss of the beliefs that led him to political violence.
Instead, when Morss was arrested, officers discovered a notebook with information inside on how to create a hometown militia.
Morss can appeal the detention decision to the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.
Paula Reed Ward is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paula by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .