Wednesday, December 7, 2022 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Capitol rioter who smoked pot in Rotunda pleads guilty

Ronald Sandlin's plea agreement means he no longer faces several decades behind bars.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Getting the more serious charges against him dropped in the process, a 34-year-old Las Vegas man who recorded himself smoking a marijuana joint inside the Senate chamber during last year’s U.S. Capitol riot pleaded guilty on Friday to conspiracy and assault.

Sandlin was arrested about one month after joining the mob that breached the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory over former President Donald Trump.

He was set to go to trial for nine charges, including obstruction and civil disorder, but decided not to after the government offered to drop seven charges in a plea agreement proposal on Sept. 6, which he inked on Sept. 22. A superseding indictment was filed against him on Sept. 15, replacing the initial indictment.

During Friday’s plea hearing, U.S. District Judge Dabney L. Friedrich asked Sandlin to confirm various parts of his plea agreement, including whether he “knew that things could get dangerous on Jan. 6,” to which he replied, “Yes, your honor.”

Sandlin confirmed that ahead of Jan. 6, he started an online fundraiser for himself and two other men for expenses related to their trip to Washington.

Friedrich asked if he had guns shipped to his home ahead of their trip, which he admitted was indeed true, as well as the fact that they brought guns, knives and bear mace with them to Washington.

Come Jan. 6, he acknowledged they attended Trump's "Stop the Steal” rally then ate lunch at a T.G.I. Friday’s in Virginia, and Sandlin said he was carrying a knife. Before heading over to the Capitol, Sandlin conceded they livestreamed a video on social media, during which he said, “There will be violence.”

Once at the Capitol, he confirmed they entered the building through a door on the Upper West Terrace, where they joined a crowd and pushed past officers guarding the Rotunda, which allowed a mob to stream in behind them. Sandlin also admitted to pushing past officers and making his way into the Senate gallery and onto a balcony overlooking the Senate chamber.

Sandlin conceded he “made contact” with an officer’s head and grabbed another’s helmet while inside the Capitol.

Before leaving the building, Sandlin admitted he smoked a marijuana joint in the Rotunda and stole a book from a desk in a Senate-side office and brought it back home with him to Las Vegas.

In the days after Jan. 6, Sandlin confirmed he and his two compatriots downloaded encrypted messaging software and that he encrypted video footage of the Capitol riot and gave it to a friend for “safe-keeping” before his arrest on Feb. 28.

Asked if he deleted any potentially incriminating videos, Sandlin said he does not recall doing so, but he does not dispute there is evidence to the contrary. The government said it is planning to argue for an obstruction enhancement in its official sentencing request.

By pleading guilty Friday afternoon, Sandlin is avoiding decades behind bars. He now faces a statutory sentence of up to 28 years of incarceration, but government attorneys said they are planning to request a much lesser sentence between 51-63 months. The defense waived its right to argue for a sentence less than the 63-month cap.

Sandlin is set to be sentenced on Dec. 9.

The Justice Department has so far charged more than 870 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of last month, about 300 people have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, 80 have pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 132 people have been sentenced to a period of incarceration.

Approximately 140 police officers were assaulted on Jan. 6 at the Capitol, including about 80 from the U.S. Capitol Police force and about 60 from the Metropolitan Police Department.

The FBI is still looking for more than 250 people who assaulted police officers during the insurrection.

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.