A D.C. man who hit three police officers with poles during a Jan. 6-related melee received a stiff sentence of more than five years in prison, months higher than even federal prosecutors recommended. He pleaded guilty in April to assaulting those officers with a dangerous weapon.
Mark K. Ponder, 56, admitted to swinging multiple polls at police during the attack on the U.S. Capitol. Court papers say that the first pole “broke in two” after making contact with a riot shield one of the officers used to protect his head, and Ponder secured another adorned in the colors of the American flag.
“Moments later, the defendant re-armed himself with a new, thicker pole colored with red, white, and blue stripes,” Ponder’s signed statement of offense reads. “At approximately 2:32 p.m., the defendant ran toward a second U.S. Capitol Police officer who – again – blocked the pole with his riot shield.”
Some 15 minutes later, Ponder acknowledged, he swung the same pole “wildly” at an advancing police line, hitting an officer in the left shoulder.
After that assault, Metropolitan Police Department officers took Ponder to the ground and arrested him. Ponder acknowledged shouting to fellow rioters after being detained, “Hold the line!” and “Do not give up!”
“He also told officers detaining him that ‘When our country is being attacked with, like we are, we have a right to fight… that is what the Second Amendment was built on,'” the statement of Ponder’s offense reads.
Ponder’s attorney Joseph R. Conte claimed his client did not arrive at the Capitol planning to brawl with police.
“Unfortunately, he got caught up in the riotous atmosphere of the crowd and erroneously perceived the police as standing in the way of the crowd’s desire to protest the election results,” Conte wrote in a sentencing memo.
Emphasizing his client’s rough upbringing, Conte described Ponder as the “product of a broken home” who “suffered abuse” and struggled with substance abuse.
“Mr. Ponder was addicted to crack cocaine but has overcome that habit and has been drug free since his incarceration in 2007,” Conte said.
U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s sentence of 63 months — three months more than prosecutors requested — ultimately fell squarely within the federal guidelines range calculated for Ponder, but Conte hoped for a sentence lower than 57 months. Prosecutors argued that a tough sentence was necessary to send a message.
“Ponder’s criminal conduct—arming himself during a riot, assaulting a police officer, re-arming himself after his first weapon broke, assaulting two additional police officers, encouraging the crowd to attack the police, and returning to the Capitol after express instructions to leave—demonstrates a profound disrespect for the law generally, and or the democratic process specifically,” Justice Department attorney Michael J. Romano wrote in Ponder’s sentencing memo. “The rule of law was under attack during a protracted siege that Ponder knowingly joined. Again, and again, he made the decision to clash with police officers. A lesser sentence would suggest to the public, in general, and other rioters, specifically, that attempts to obstruct official proceedings and assaults on police officers are not taken seriously.”
Ponder must also pay $2,000 in restitution. Some 18 months since the attack, authorities have charged more than 260 people with assaulting or impeding law enforcement on Jan. 6.
Marisa Sarnoff contributed to this report.
(Photos via FBI)
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