The Washington Post
Man gets 63 months for riot assaults
D.C. resident attacked three officers as part of Jan. 6 mob at Capitol
A District man who assaulted three police officers and shattered a riot shield with a pole was sentenced to 63 months in prison Tuesday, matching the longest sentence handed down to a defendant convicted in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack.
Mark K. Ponder, 56, admitted to fighting with police in videorecorded confrontations between 2:31 p.m. and 2:48 p.m. that day in the area of the lower west terrace of the Capitol, which was overrun by a violent mob angered by President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. Ponder pleaded guilty April 22 to one count of assaulting an officer using a dangerous weapon.
“He was leading the charge,” U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan said, reciting at sentencing how Ponder smashed a thin pole against an officer’s riot shield so hard that the pole broke and the shield shattered, then found a thicker pole, colored red, white and blue, and resumed fighting.
“He wasn’t defending himself or anybody else. He was attempting to injure those officers, and we are lucky [someone] was not killed with the force Mr. Ponder is swinging those poles,” the judge said.
Chutkan in December handed down a similar 63-month sentence to Robert S. Palmer, 54, of Largo, Fla., who joined the front of the mob and hurled a fire extinguisher, plank and pole at police.
Like Palmer, Ponder was “part of a group who, when they couldn’t get what they wanted, decided they were going to take it. And they were going to take it with violence,” Chutkan said, saying they felt entitled “to attack law enforcement officers who were just doing their jobs.”
Ponder has a right to his political beliefs, the judge said, but in this case he participated with violent extremists in a riot that “exposed — and maybe caused — cracks in our democracy.”
Chutkan has emerged as the
toughest sentencing judge in Capitol riot cases and exceeded prosecutors’ request to sentence Ponder to five years in prison, the low end of a federal advisory sentencing range of 57 to 71 months, in keeping with a plea deal.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jocelyn P. Bond said a five-year term was justified by the seriousness of the offense as well as by Ponder’s return to the scene at 4 and 5 p.m. after he was tackled, handcuffed and then told to leave by police because officers needed to reinforce other parts of the Capitol complex.
“Even after the first three assaults, he had a big opportunity to stop and leave the Capitol,” Bond said. “The fact that Mr. Ponder just kept going, even when he had an opportunity to choose a different course, he doesn’t back off, and we think that supports our request.”
Former U.S. Capitol Police sergeant Aquilino Gonell gave an in-person victim impact statement, telling the court as one of the officers struck by Ponder that there is “no doubt” he understood he was hitting police officers and “had the will and the intent to continue doing harm.”
The former sergeant said that he took early retirement as a result of the attack, that he was left with mental and physical injuries and that “my family has suffered, emotionally and financially.” Gonell told Chutkan that
“He was leading the charge. ... He wasn’t defending himself or anybody else. He was attempting to injure those officers.” U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan, speaking at the sentencing of Mark K. Ponder
Ponder’s claim that he got “caught up” in the violence “is BS, and please don’t fall for it.”
“He has changed my life,” said Gonell, a 16-year police veteran who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq.
Ponder asked for mercy, saying that while like Palmer he had a criminal history, he was a “changed person for the last 12 years” since his release from prison after convictions for bank and armed robbery.
“I never meant for this to happen. I went there with the intention of going on a peaceful protest,” Ponder said. But he said that he “wasn’t thinking” after he was pepper-sprayed by police, and after the tension and anger in the crowd stoked by the former president erupted into “chaos.”
“I’m not saying I’m completely innocent of this — I am not. I’m extremely sorry for what happened to this officer and all the other officers that day,” Ponder told the judge. “I’m not asking for justice. … I’m asking for mercy.”
Defense attorney Joseph R. Conte added that Ponder, a life
long resident of the Washington area, overcame a crack cocaine addiction and before Jan. 6 had no contact with police since his incarceration. Ponder was the product of a broken home and suffered abuse as a child “as severe as any I’ve seen in my career,” Conte said, to which Chutkan responded, “I don’t disagree.”
The judge waived any fine and said she would recommend that Ponder be allowed to serve his sentence near Washington, saying she hoped the defendant “will be able to get mental health treatment and counseling and be able to live the rest of his life without getting into trouble with law enforcement.”