He and two friends brought guns from Las Vegas to D.C., having repeatedly declared their desire to occupy the Capitol by force. Armed with a knife, Sandlin pushed his way to the front of the crowd, got inside and led clashes with officers guarding a building entrance and the Senate floor. Sandlin tried to pull a helmet off one officer and shoved another; he stole a book from a senator’s desk; he tried to take an oil painting and he smoked marijuana in the Rotunda. As they fought, he told officers to run or die.
“I felt like a human punching bag, receiving continuous blows from the rioters and being pinned up against the wall,” one of those officers said in a statement to the court. “This day in my life continues to be the worst I’ve ever had to live through and scars me to this day.”
In explaining her sentence, Judge Dabney L. Friedrich said Sandlin, “put multiple officers’ lives at risk” and then “celebrated.”
Afterward, Sandlin tried to erase evidence; prosecutors said they only got access to his video of the riot because Sandlin shared his laptop encryption key on a recorded jail call.
Sandlin apologized to the officers, lawmakers and election officials, saying they “should never feel the threat of political violence.” He said he knew President Biden had won the 2020 election and no longer supported Donald Trump.
Friedrich, a Trump appointee, said she was unsure whether to believe Sandlin given that he spent over a year after his arrest claiming he was the victim of a “witch hunt” perpetuated by a biased Justice Department.
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Last fall, Sandlin falsely told documentarian Alexandra Pelosi — the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — that police had murdered two Trump supporters who died during the riot. As recently as October, a conservative blog put out an appeal for funds for Sandlin, saying he “needs your help to fight tyranny and a corrupt DOJ.” Sandlin had a court-appointed, taxpayer-funded attorney, Jerry Smith.
“Despite his change of heart, it’s really hard to know where his head is right now,” Friedrich said. The judge said she would order Sandlin to give up what is left of the $21,000 he raised online.
Smith said someone who “bought into these cultish, insane conspiracy theories about the election being stolen” that were “reinforced by politicians, including the president of the United States” would need “a while to be deprogrammed.” According to Smith, Sandlin’s conversion came during trial preparation when they viewed videos from inside the Capitol. Sandlin chose to plead guilty to assaulting police; on Friday, he looked pained as the videos played in court.
“He’s not trying to position himself as some darling of the alt-right in the future,” Smith said.
Two other men pleaded guilty Friday to obstructing Congress, having admitted to throwing smoke bombs at police, smoking cigarettes inside the building, and stealing a marker that they used to scrawl their brand “Murder the Media” on a Capitol door.
Nicholas Ochs, 36, of Honolulu, and Nicholas DeCarlo, 32, of Fort Worth, are both affiliated with the far-right Proud Boys movement. Neither expressed contrition; prosecutors noted that DeCarlo had memorialized their vandalism in a framed photo in his apartment.
Ochs, an Army veteran, and DeCarlo, a high school dropout, said they went to the Capitol to promote their new media venture and were swept up in the crowd.
“Professional journalists don’t throw smoke bombs to help a mob break into a secure government building,” Chief U.S. District Court Judge Beryl A. Howell said. “They knew what they were doing, they were not gullible, not manipulated.”
She sentenced them both to four years in prison. Like Friedrich, Howell ordered the defendants to forfeit $7,5oo in fines from the thousands of dollars they raised online by claiming to be political prisoners.
Less than 10 percent of $15,677 that Ochs raised was earmarked for his legal fees, while DeCarlo raised $7,000 while represented by a court-appointed lawyer, prosecutors said.