A Tennessee man seen smoking marijuana inside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 after having forced his way past a line of police officers has pleaded guilty to two felonies.
Ronald Sandlin, 35, appeared before U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich on Friday and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting, resisting, or impeding police officers. During the hearing, he admitted to a range of offenses, including being armed with a knife when he joined the Capitol riot and the hundreds of Donald Trump supporters, angry over their candidate’s loss to President Joe Biden, who forced their way into the building. Congress temporarily stopped the certification of Biden’s win as lawmakers and Capitol staffers either fled the building or sheltered in place.
He faces a potential 20 to 28 years behind bars. The obstruction charge carries a maximum 20 year sentence, while the assault charge has a maximum of eight years. The prosecution is expected to argue that the sentences should not be combined, while Sandlin’s lawyer indicated that the action against the officers was part of the conspiracy, so the sentence should max out at 20 years.
The plea agreement contemplates a range of 63 to 78 months in prison if, after hearing arguments from the parties, Friedrich decides that an obstruction of justice enhancement applies, and 51 to 63 months in prison if she decides that it does not apply. Prosecutors agreed to cap their allocution at sentencing — when each side has an opportunity to argue for a particular sentence — at 63 months.
According to the Justice Department, Sandlin and two co-conspirators, Nathaniel DeGrave and Josiah Colt, started planning in December 2020 to go to Washington and try to stop the transition of presidential power on Jan. 6.
“For example, on Dec. 31, 2020, Sandlin posted to Facebook that he was organizing a caravan to travel to Washington and sought donations on a GoFundMe site,” the DOJ said in a press release. “The same day, he, DeGrave, and Colt began a private chat on Facebook to plan for Jan. 6. In the chat, they discussed ‘shipping guns’ to Sandlin’s residence in Tennessee, where they planned to meet prior to their trip.”
Two days before heading to Washington, on Jan. 4, 2021, Sandlin posted to Facebook a picture of Colt lying on a bed holding a firearm. Sandlin captioned the photo: “My fellow patriot sleeping ready for the boogaloo Jan 6.”
At the time, the DOJ says, Sandlin believed the word “boogaloo” referred to civil war. The word, from the breakdancing movie Breakin’ II: Electric Boogaloo, was appropriated by far-right extremists as a coded reference for another bloody national conflict that, like the movie, would be a sequel.
On Jan. 6, after attending the so-called “Stop the Steal” rally near the Ellipse, Sandlin had lunch at a TGI Friday’s restaurant in Virginia. From there, he admitted in court Friday, he live-streamed a video in which he, Colt, and DeGrave discussed going to the Capitol building.
“There is going to be violence,” Sandlin admitted saying on the video. “I’m willing to occupy the Capitol,” he also said.
The trio then went back to D.C., joining the crowd marching from the Ellipse to the Capitol. They were all wearing various protective gear, including helmets, gas or face masks, shin guards, and motorcycles. According to the Statement of Offense, which includes the facts that form the basis of Sandlin’s guilty plea, Sandlin carried a knife with him to the Capitol, while DeGrave carried a can of bear spray.
They entered the building after breaching exterior barricades and walking through the Upper West Terrace door at around 2:35 p.m.
“At the time he entered the Capitol, Sandlin believed that members of Congress were convened inside for the Electoral College vote certification proceedings,” the Statement of Offense says.
Once inside, Sandlin faced off against Capitol Police officers guarding the doors of the Rotunda, yelling at them to “get out of the way.”
“Your life is not worth it today,” Sandlin shouted at them. “You’re going to die, get out of the way.”
Sandlin and DeGrave then joined a crowd that was pushing the officers, forcing the door behind the officers open, allowing the mob to stream into the Rotunda. Sandlin admitted that at around this time, Sandlin grabbed the helmet of a police officer.
Eventually, Sandlin and his co-defendants made their way to the Senate, gaining access to the Senate Gallery after shoving officers who were trying to lock the doors.
“We took it,” Sandlin said in a selfie-style video after entering the Gallery. “We did it.”
Once inside the Senate Gallery, Colt memorably dangled from the balcony and jumped down to the Senate Floor before running to a seat reserved for Vice President Mike Pence. DeGrave cheered him on, apparently thinking that the seat belonged to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Sandlin then wandered through the Capitol building, ultimately ending up in the Rotunda, where he recorded himself smoking a “marijuana joint,” according to the Statement of Offense.
“We made history,” Sandlin said on the video. “This is our house.”
Before exiting the Capitol through the Rotunda doors at around 3:16 p.m., the Statement of Offense says, Sandlin “stole a book from a desk in a Senate-side office,” later describing it to Colt as a “souvenir.” He also attempted to purloin an oil painting, but other rioters stopped him.
During Friday’s hearing, Sandlin had responded to most questions from Friedrich with a somber sounding “yes, Your Honor,” but he paused when asked to admit that he deleted pictures and messages from his group chats with Colt, DeGrave, and others about what they did at the Capitol.
“I don’t recall doing that, Your Honor,” he said.
After a moment, however, Sandlin’s lawyer, Jerry Ray Smith, Jr., clarified that Sandlin agreed that even if he doesn’t remember doing it, the government would be able to prove that he did indeed delete the group chat.
“You don’t dispute, Mr. Sandlin, do you, that the government has evidence that would prove that fact?” Friedrich asked.
“Yes, Your Honor,” Sandlin replied. “I don’t dispute that, Your Honor.”
The defendant’s case became somewhat of a landmark among Jan. 6 prosecutions, thanks to Friedrich’s denial of a motion to dismiss by Sandlin and DeGrave: they were among the first Jan. 6 defendants to have their effort to dismiss the obstruction charge denied. The men had argued that they were improperly charged under 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2), which prohibits “corruptly” obstructing, or attempting to obstruct, an official proceeding. The men had argued that certification of the Electoral College vote was not an “official proceeding” for purposes of the statute, and that their actions did not fall into the meaning of “corrupt” that the statute intended.
Friedrich, a Trump appointee, disagreed, ruling in December 2021 that the vote certification was indeed an official proceeding of Congress for purposes of the statute, and that the word “corruptly” properly applied to their then-alleged actions.
Friedrich’s decision paved the way for at least nine other judges to rule the same way, although U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, also a Trump appointee, found that the statute did not apply.
Colt, 35, of Meridian, Idaho, pleaded guilty in July 2021 to obstruction of an official proceeding. DeGrave, 33, of Las Vegas, pleaded guilty in June to conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding and assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers. Both are awaiting sentencing.
Friedrich set Sandlin’s sentencing for Dec. 9.
Read Sandlin’s statement of offense, below.
[Images of Ronald Sandlin via FBI court filing.]
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