An accused Capitol rioter captured on camera repeatedly striking at police with a long pole during the Jan. 6 insurrection was arrested on the spot but released back into the crowd after officers waiting to transport him learned no transport would be arriving.
The suspect, Mark Ponder — who berated police during his 25-minute detention on Capitol grounds — then returned to the mob and was seen on the makeshift inauguration stage hours later, prosecutors say in a newly filed case that underscores the chaos facing overwhelmed officers that day.
Among the many lingering questions about the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is the absence of immediate arrests of many of the most violent figures in the mob. Wednesday’s filing hints at an answer: Officers were so outmatched, prosecutors say, that they simply couldn’t hold detainees while they were needed for riot control.
“While the officers are standing with Ponder waiting for transport, Ponder verbally engages with other nearby rioters saying ‘I will say this. When our country is being attacked with, like we are, we have a right to fight…that is what the Second Amendment was built on,'” according to the FBI affidavit supporting Ponder’s arrest. “Eventually, the officers learn that transport will not be arriving for Ponder and that they are needed for continued crowd control. At that point, they inform Ponder that he will be released.”
Police escorted Ponder to the edge of the Capitol grounds and told him not to return. As he was released, “other rioters cheered him on,” the charging documents say.
Ponder’s example is among the most brazen assaults on police revealed publicly so far. Another alleged rioter, Daniel Egtvedt, was seen on camera repeatedly assaulting police in a Capitol hallway before he was ultimately released from the building.
Some defense attorneys have pointed to these releases — and the sometimes weekslong delay before these suspects were arrested and charged — as evidence that the government didn’t view them as particularly dangerous. On Tuesday, Judge Beryl Howell, chief of the U.S. District Court in Washington, rebutted that notion, arguing in her courtroom that the delays in apprehending some of the Capitol suspects were the result of the chaotic mob violence, which left overmatched officers unable to immediately detain assailants and rioters. That has complicated the investigation of the riot cases, she said.
“If the police had not been overwhelmed on Jan. 6, the people who participated in the assault, the beating of a police officer … they would’ve been arrested promptly,” Howell said, shortly before ordering the pretrial detention of Thomas Sibick, who is charged with stealing the badge and radio of an officer who was being beaten by members of the mob.
“It does seem ironic that because mob behavior eliminated the opportunity for the police to take the actions I’m sure they would’ve liked to have taken if they hadn’t been full time trying to protect the Capitol,” she added.
Ponder’s case is the latest example. He was arrested at 2:49 p.m., after officers wrestled him to the ground amid his alleged assault with a pole. During the scuffle, captured on officer-worn cameras and open-source videos, a voice can be heard saying, “You gonna have to kill me today. You gonna have to kill me,” according to the FBI affidavit. It’s not clear, the agent says, whether that voice belongs to Ponder.
During his 26-minute detention, Ponder continued to yell encouragement to the rioters nearby, prosecutors contend. And he briefly refused to identify himself to police, who ultimately discovered his name when they searched him and found his wallet. He faces charges of assaulting officers, unlawful entry on Capitol grounds and obstructing congressional proceedings.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.
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