Yesterday, 56-year-old Mark K. Ponder was sentenced in the District of Columbia over his participation in the January 6th Capitol Hill riot. He was given 63 months (more than five years) behind bars, which is certainly a fairly hefty sentence. Ponder had been found guilty of assaulting three law enforcement officers. In April of this year, he pleaded guilty to “assaulting, resisting, or impeding officers using a dangerous weapon.” To be clear, assaulting the police is never excusable under any circumstances and it is appropriate that he be prosecuted for his actions. With that said, however, it’s worth looking at the specifics of what he did on that day and comparing his treatment to others who have been sentenced for similar offenses. Here are some of the details of what he was accused of as provided on the Justice Department website.
At approximately 2:31 p.m. on Jan. 6, after rioters overwhelmed police lines in the West Plaza, Ponder ran out from the crowd and swung a long, thin pole at a U.S. Capitol Police officer. The officer protected himself by raising his riot shield above his head. Ponder’s pole struck the riot shield and broke in two, with part of the pole flying off to the side. Ponder then retreated into the crowd. Moments later, he re-armed himself with a new, thicker pole that was colored with red, white, and blue stripes.
At approximately 2:32 p.m., he ran toward a second U.S. Capitol Police officer who also was able to block the pole with his riot shield. Then at 2:48 p.m., Ponder joined a crowd of rioters that faced off against a line of officers with the Metropolitan Police Department in the Upper West Terrace. He swung the same striped pole and banged it against the ground in a menacing manner. Then, as the police officers advanced to move the crowd, Ponder wildly swung the pole at the advancing police line, striking an officer in the left shoulder.
So to review the facts as they were presented, there is no indication that Mark Ponder ever entered the Capitol building. He remained outside with the protesters who were in the plaza. He obtained a “thin pole” from somewhere and swung it at an officer. The officer easily blocked the swing and the pole broke on his riot shield. Ponder obtained a second pole and swung it at another officer who also blocked it with his riot shield. He proceeded to bang the pole on the ground “in a menacing manner.” Apparently, the third time was a charm because ponder finally connected with a swing of the second pole, reportedly “striking an officer on the left shoulder.” There is no report of the officer being injured.
Again, to be perfectly clear, you are not supposed to go around striking law enforcement officers with your fists, with a pole, or with any other weapons. But do those actions describe a crime where you would typically expect to see someone sentenced to prison for more than half a decade? Let’s briefly consider a few other cases.
Just last week, a man in Minnesota who had multiple prior convictions for domestic violence was sentenced for assaulting three police officers, one of whom was hospitalized, and multiple employees at a grocery store. He then assaulted another corrections officer at the jail. He was sentenced to 16 months in jail and given a fine of less than 1,000 dollars.
A man in Waco, Texas was convicted of firing a pistol at a soldier and then physically attacking the police officer who came to arrest him. He was given 24 months in jail. A teenager in New York City who was suspected of robbery and found with an illegal, loaded handgun, repeatedly punched two NYPD officers in the face, with the entire incident caught on video. He was released with a suspended sentence.
The point here is that punishment is supposed to be meted out evenly in our criminal justice system. The courts are not supposed to “make an example” of people, except to show other potential offenders what will be coming to them if they commit the same types of crime. I was unable to find any record of Mark Ponder having prior convictions. In the end, the only actual physical attack he was charged with was a glancing blow to the shoulder of an officer with a pole and impacting a couple of riot shields. And he was given more than five years in prison. Something is not right here. Not right at all.