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DC man who repeatedly attacked police with metal pole on Jan. 6 sentenced to 63 months in prison

Mark K. Ponder, of Northwest, pleaded guilty in April and was sentenced Tuesday to one of the longest prison terms to date stemming from the Capitol riot.

WASHINGTON — A federal judge sentenced a D.C. man to more than five years in prison Tuesday for repeatedly assaulting police with a pole outside the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6.

Mark K. Ponder, 56, pleaded guilty in April to one felony count of assaulting police with a deadly weapon. Ponder, one of only a small number of D.C. residents charged in the Capitol riot, told police he believed the election was stolen when he joined a pro-Trump mob after marching from the Ellipse to the Capitol. Once there, he said in court Tuesday, he got “caught up” in the chaos. Ponder assaulted at least three officers while on the Capitol grounds over a period of hours. One of them, U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, gave a victim impact statements Tuesday before Ponder was sentenced.

Gonell, one of four officers who testified at the first hearing of the Jan. 6 Committee last summer, told U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan he was distracted by other rioters when Ponder approached him with a metal pole and swung it at him so hard it cracked his riot shield and shattered the pole. Gonell said he remembered seeing the blood-soaked ground underneath him as Ponder retreated momentarily and grabbed a second pole — this one colored red, white and blue.

“That day we didn’t have a parade,” Gonell said, referring to the misdemeanor parading charge many Jan. 6 defendants have pleaded guilty to. “There was no parade. There was no picnic. There was a riot.”

Gonell, who served in the U.S. Army in Iraq before joining the Capitol Police, was one of more than 180 officers who were injured on Jan. 6. Gonell suffered a shattered foot and serious injuries to a shoulder that required more than a year of physical therapy. Last month, he told WUSA9 he had reached maximum recovery on those injuries and had learned he would have to retire from the U.S. Capitol Police force because of them.

“Please do not fall for his plea, because that day he didn’t care,” Gonell said. “He didn’t care about COVID. He didn’t care about officers. He didn’t care about anything.”

Prosecutors asked Chutkan to sentence Ponder to 60 months in prison. They cited his lengthy criminal history going back to the 1980s, including convictions for domestic assault, armed robbery and bank robbery, and the extreme violence he inflicted on Jan. 6. Ponder’s attorney, Joseph Conte, asked for a downward variance, noting his client’s age and a childhood he described as being “as severe as any I’ve seen in my years practicing criminal law.”

Ponder, who stared straight ahead for most of the hearing, spoke briefly before Chutkan handed down his sentence.

“I’m not asking for justice, Your Honor,” he said, “because if you gave me justice I’d deserve everything I’d get. I’m asking for mercy.”

Chutkan said she had to square whatever sentence she gave Ponder with the sentence she handed down to another felony Capitol riot defendant, Robert Scott Palmer, who also pleaded guilty to assaulting police. Chutkan sentenced Palmer to 63 months in prison – the longest Jan. 6 handed down to date. The judge said she was “appalled” by Ponder’s actions on Jan. 6, particularly using a red, white, and blue pole to attack police at the Capitol, and noted he was on the grounds for more at least three hours that day. She also highlighted the rage with which Ponder attacked police.

“We are lucky that that Sgt. Gonell or someone like him was not killed because of the force he was swinging with,” Chutkan said.

Chutkan agreed with Conte’s assessment that Ponder’s upbringing was horrific, but said the fact he’d gone 12 years without a police interaction showed he couldn’t blame all of his actions on that. Chutkan denied Conte’s request for a downward variance — saying it “wasn’t even close” to warranting that — and said she’d very nearly imposed an upward variance instead.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever varied up in a criminal case... but I have to tell you, I seriously considered it, so appalled was I by his actions and so moved was I by Sgt. Gonell and others,” Chutkan said.

Chutkan sentenced Ponder to 63 months in prison, tying Palmer for the longest Jan. 6 sentence to date, and 36 months of supervised release. He was also ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution and to participate in a mental health program while incarcerated.

We're tracking all of the arrests, charges and investigations into the January 6 assault on the Capitol. Sign up for our Capitol Breach Newsletter here so that you never miss an update.

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