WASHINGTON — DC police officers released a man they’d arrested for attacking cops outside the US Capitol on Jan. 6 because they were ordered to return to the riot, according to charging papers unsealed on Wednesday.
Mark Ponder, who told police at the time that he lived in Washington, DC, was tackled to the ground outside the Capitol at around 2:49 p.m. by a group of Metropolitan Police Department officers after swinging a pole at them and hitting one officer in the shoulder. But roughly 25 minutes later, he was allowed to walk away because a police transport couldn’t get through to the Capitol grounds and the officers who’d arrested him were ordered back to the riot to help with crowd control, according to court filings.
“[D]ue to the chaotic nature of the day, the arrest was not completed on January 6, 2021,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit included with Ponder’s charging papers, which were unsealed Wednesday following his arrest earlier in the day.
It was the latest example of how the lack of advance planning for the events of Jan. 6 meant police were overwhelmed by the thousands of rioters who streamed onto the Capitol grounds. US Capitol Police have estimated 800 people went inside the Capitol and 10,000 people went onto the grounds. Few participants in the insurrection were arrested that day, and the FBI, federal prosecutors, and their federal and local law enforcement partners have spent the past two months gathering evidence and tracking down suspects who scattered across the country after they were allowed to walk away without arrest.
After he was restrained by MPD officers and escorted away from the Capitol grounds, Ponder allegedly repeatedly shouted to other rioters “Hold the line!” and “Do not give up!” One officer’s body camera recorded Ponder initially refusing to give his name and then appearing to confirm his name after the officers went through his wallet. When the officers learned they had to go back to the riot, they had Ponder provide an address.
Officers then led Ponder out of a barricaded area and told him that he couldn’t come back. He held his arm in the air as he left and other rioters cheered him, according to his charging papers. Roughly two hours later, the government alleged that another officer’s body camera recorded Ponder back on the Capitol grounds near a stage that was set up in anticipation of President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20; he left the area after police deployed tear gas on the crowd.
US Capitol Police leadership asked MPD for assistance with the mob descending on the Capitol just before 1 p.m. on Jan. 6, according to MPD acting chief Robert Contee, who testified before the Senate in February. Contee described how his department’s top priorities were controlling the crowd and clearing the Capitol so that lawmakers could resume the joint session to certify the Electoral College; making arrests was last on that list, he said. Contee testified that officers were “vastly outnumbered” by the rioters and that he was “stunned” at the US Army’s delay in deploying the DC National Guard.
The US attorney’s office in Washington filed charges against Ponder under seal on March 12. An FBI spokesperson referred a request for information about the timeline of the investigation into Ponder’s involvement in the Capitol riot to prosecutors. An MPD spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment. A phone number listed in publicly available records for Ponder was disconnected.
Ponder isn’t charged with going inside the Capitol, but is accused of attacking police on the grounds just outside the building using long, thin poles; the first pole broke after he struck an officer’s shield, and he appeared to find another one on the scene, according to the government. His charging papers include screenshots from police body camera footage that show him swinging the poles at officers.
On Feb. 18, an FBI agent met with the MPD officer who was allegedly struck by Ponder and was involved in arresting him, according to charging papers. The MPD officer identified Ponder in photographs that were taken from the police body camera footage. The government’s court filings don’t share any other details about the investigation.