A Black man who was one of only four residents of the District of Columbia arrested for taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection has received one of the longest sentences thus far for his role.
The federal government sought a 60-month prison term for Mark Ponder in court on Tuesday, which he got, and Judge Tanya Chutkan added three more months, equaling over five years in prison. His punishment is tied for the longest with the December sentence of Robert Scott Palmer, a Florida man who struck Capitol Police officers with a fire extinguisher, according to NBC News.
Ponder, 56, was also accused of later attacking a Washington D.C. officer and being among the violent throng attempting to crush its way into the Capitol building via a tunnel. His sentencing hearing featured testimony from Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who testified that the assault left his life forever changed.
“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 prosecution’s sentencing memo said. “Ponder then retreated back into the crowd. The screenshot below captures this assault.” In the NBC News report, Ponder is seen waving a pole at the officer in an image captured by a body camera.
Gonell, who has been present during the Congressional Select Committee hearings about Jan. 6, says he will “never be back in uniform” due to the injuries he sustained that fateful day. He reportedly received his most severe injuries after Ponder attacked him.
After Tuesday’s sentencing, Gonell said in an interview, “I’m not a vindictive person. I forgive him. But I won’t forget about what he did.”
“What his actions did was change the trajectory of my life,” he continued. “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.”
“I’m at peace with myself,” Gonell maintained, “and hope he gets all the help that he needs and comes back a better person.”
Ponder told the FBI after his arrest that the Supreme Court and former Attorney General William Barr should have acted on former President Donald Trump’s baseless voter fraud claims.
“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.’”
Judge Chutkan said she considered adding more time to Ponder’s sentence, given the nature of the crime. Ponder’s violent actions, she maintained, were taken because he “didn’t get what he wanted. And because he didn’t, he felt entitled to attack law enforcement officers who were simply doing their job.”
While the case against Ponder appeared to be clear and compelling, many on social media are still wondering if he was given such a lengthy sentence because he is Black.
One Twitter user wrote, “Soooooo… out of 850 J6 defendants so far, the one with the longest sentence is Mark Ponder, the only black guy? Seriously? 849 white folks looking at more lenient charges than the one black guy? That’s just… wow.”
Hundreds of cases in connection to the Jan. 9 insurrection are still being adjudicated, and hundreds of additional arrests are reportedly coming. Ponder is one of about 850 people so far who have been arrested.
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