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Trump supporter who assaulted police at the Capitol gets five years in prison

Jan. 6 defendant Mark Ponder told the FBI he thought the 2020 election was stolen. His sentence is tied for the longest in the Jan. 6 cases.
Mark Ponder at the Capitol
Mark Ponder at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia

WASHINGTON — A Donald Trump supporter who assaulted police officers at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, because he believed the former president's lies about the 2020 presidential election was sentenced to more than five years in prison Tuesday.

Mark Ponder, one of just four Washington residents arrested for their actions on Jan. 6, was given 63 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan. His sentence is tied for the longest imposed to date for Jan. 6 with that of Robert Scott Palmer, who attacked law enforcement officers with a fire extinguisher.

Ponder's sentencing hearing featured testimony from Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who told the judge that Jan. 6 had changed his life forever. The government's sentencing memo spells out how Ponder "charged" Gonell, "waved [a] pole aggressively and then attacked" Gonell.

"Ponder struck the riot shield with such force that the pole snapped and broke apart as it made contact with the shield, and the top portion of the pole flew off to the side," the sentencing memo said. "Ponder then retreated back into the crowd. The screenshot below captures this assault."

Mark Ponder at the Capitol
Mark Ponder at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021.U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia

Gonell, a military veteran and immigrant, told reporters last month that he will "never be back in uniform" because of the injuries he sustained on Jan. 6. Gonell's more severe injuries were inflicted later in the day, after he was assaulted by Ponder.

In an interview after Ponder's sentencing, Gonell said it was important for him to show up to give a statement in Ponder's case.

"I'm not a vindictive person. I forgive him. But I won't forget about what he did," Gonell said.

"What his actions did was change the trajectory of my life. Instead of getting ready for a promotion and continuing my police work, my profession, I need to look beyond what I'm going to do after police work," Gonell said. "I'm at peace with myself and hope he gets all the help that he needs and comes back a better person."

Ponder later assaulted a Washington police officer identified by the initials J.C. and joined members of the mob inside the tunnel as they tried to get into the Capitol.

The government sought 60 months, or five years, in the case. Chutkan went slightly above that and said she pondered giving Ponder even more time because of the violence he committed on video. She said it was the people inside the building who were doing their jobs on Jan. 6 who were patriots, not people like Ponder who believed lies about the election and committed violence because of it.

“He didn’t get what he wanted,” Chutkan said. “And because he didn’t, he felt entitled to attack law enforcement officers who were simply doing their job.”

After his arrest by the FBI, Ponder made it clear that he believed in conspiracy theories about the election, echoing Trump's talking points about the Supreme Court and former Attorney General William Barr, who said Trump's mass voter fraud claims were "bullshit."

"Cause the election, I know I shouldn’t say it, but I really feel as though it was stolen," he said. "That’s something you can’t take, right? ... The thing about it is, our Supreme Court, we have a Supreme Court here that is supposed to stand for stuff like this. And say, okay, why hasn’t the Supreme Court stepped in? Why didn’t Barr step in, at the very least, at the minimum to say ‘let’s have an investigation.’"

The FBI has arrested about 850 people in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, and hundreds more cases are in the works.