Updated April 13, 2021 - 12:24 pm
WASHINGTON — A federal judge on Tuesday denied pretrial release to a man arrested in Las Vegas who posted video of himself smoking marijuana in the Capitol Rotunda during the violent Jan. 6 insurrection that left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer.
Ronald Sandlin, a Tennessee resident born in Mexico, faces federal charges of violent entry, disorderly conduct and obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder in connection with the Capitol riot.
Judge Dabney Friedrich denied Sandlin’s motion for pretrial release following a hearing, ruling that Sandlin’s actions on Jan. 6 — punching Capitol Police and trying to take the helmet off another — constitute a continuing danger.
Friedrich said most troubling was footage before the riot of Sandlin saying “freedom is paid for with blood,” and his actions to avoid arrest after the siege of the Capitol.
Suspect says he’s not a flight risk
Sandlin said in the hearing last week that he was not a violent person and not a flight risk, having no ties to his birthplace or birth mother in Mexico.
The judge acknowledged Thursday that Sandlin had no previous criminal record, but she also noted that he organized a group to travel to Washington, D.C. and they were in possession of gear, weapons, bear spray and other items.
There is no evidence that those items were brought into Washington from a Maryland suburb where he was staying.
Sandlin and his lawyer asked for release with monitoring of his whereabouts and internet activity. “I want this ugly chapter to be over,” Sandlin told the judge last week.
Movie deal in the works
Prosecutors argued against the release. In addition to Mexico, Sandlin owes the IRS roughly $500,000 and has told others of his plan to seek a book or movie deal with the footage he has of the Jan. 6 riot.
Sandlin was also using encryption applications on his cell phone when messaging, another area of concern that prosecutors cited in arguing he not be allowed to return to the Memphis area, where his parents live.
Sandlin was one of hundreds who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was sprayed with a chemical irritant and collapsed during his battle to keep the rioters out. He died the next day. An autopsy is pending. Other law enforcement officers were injured.
The D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed four other deaths as a result of the insurrection, including Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran who stormed the Capitol and was shot by police. Two others died of natural causes and one from accidental amphetamine intoxication.
More than 375 people have been arrested and charged in the Jan. 6 attack that followed a rally by former President Donald Trump, who falsely claimed that the presidential election was stolen from him in key states.
Trump supporters at the rally then attacked the Capitol as the House and Senate were in session to certify Electoral College returns. Capitol Police shuttled lawmakers into safe rooms as mobs searched for officials and ransacked offices.
The House voted to impeach Trump for inciting the insurrection. He was acquitted by the Senate.
Sandlin traveled to D.C. with others to participate in the Jan. 6 insurrection and used his smart phone to tape footage of himself smoking marijuana in the Capitol Rotunda after the mob broke windows and overran police to get inside.
Other footage is contained in a laptop that was to be given to a Sandlin attorney in Las Vegas. Friedrich also reviewed footage that Sandlin had posted on his Facebook page, but later removed.
Video and surveillance footage was used to help authorities track down Sandlin, who was arrested Jan. 8 in Las Vegas by FBI agents outside an apartment of another suspect, Nathaniel DeGrave, a registered Republican in Las Vegas who faces similar federal charges in connection with the riot.
During a hearing on his motion last week, Sandlin told Friedrich that he was “not a violent person.”
“I’m no John Gotti,” Sandlin said in reference to the New York crime boss convicted in 1992 of murder and racketeering.
In denying his release Thursday, Friedrich cited Sandlin’s own social media posts where he boasted that he was ready to use violence to take the Capitol, he urged other “patriots” to join in and when the insurrection failed, “his clear intention was to hide.”