Accused Capitol rioters from Iowa fight prosecutors’ use of photos, video

By: - March 23, 2022 5:37 pm

Deborah Sandoval of Des Moines (inset) is trying to prevent prosecutors from using this photo, redacted by the government, allegedly showing Sandoval posing with members of the Proud Boys in the weeks before the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. (Photos from U.S. District Court filings.)

An Iowa mother accused of taking part in the U.S. Capitol riots with her son is attempting to block federal prosecutors’ use of a photo of her posing with the Proud Boys.

Deborah Sandoval of Des Moines and her son, Salvador Sandoval Jr. of Ankeny, were arrested 13 months ago and face charges that include violent entry and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds and entering or remaining in a restricted building without lawful authority.

Deborah Sandoval also faces a charge of impeding or disrupting the orderly conduct of government, and her son faces a charge of obstructing, impeding or interfering with law enforcement.

The Sandovals have pleaded innocent to the charges. Trial dates have yet to be scheduled.

The two are accused of participating in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capital, which involved hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump storming and then breaking into the Capitol building.

In recent court filings, Deborah Sanodval’s lawyers argue that “she did not come to Washington, D.C., with the intent to go to the Capitol Building. Instead, she came to Washington, D.C., to attend a political rally at the invitation and urging of the former president.”

They allege that after Trump’s rally south of the White House, “Ms. Sandoval, along with her companions, proceeded to the Capitol at the invitation and urging of the former president, who told the crowd he would be walking with them.”

Sandoval’s lawyers want the court to bar the admission of photos and videos collected by prosecutors, including a December 2020 photo in which Deborah is seen posing with more than a dozen members of the Proud Boys, most of whom are equipped in tactical gear.

“The videos and photos depicting violence of the storming of the Capitol has nothing to do with Ms. Sandoval,” her lawyers argue in a recent motion before the court. “Unfortunately, there is at least one photo of Ms. Sandoval posing with members of the Proud Boys on an occasion before Jan. 6, 2021. It is believed that the government may try to introduce some of these photos as well as videos of the storming of the Capitol building during an opening statement, or in its case in chief. In so doing, they would be creating a false impression, that Ms. Sandoval participated in or coordinated the planning of riotous behavior.”

‘Don’t concede, Trump, because we are not going to.’

The Proud Boys is an extreme-right, neo-fascist organization that describes itself as a “pro-Western fraternal organization for men who refuse to apologize for creating the modern world; aka western chauvinists.” The group has been linked to past acts of violence.

In response to the defense’s motion to exclude such evidence at trial, prosecutors argue the photos and video footage they have collected depict the “violence surrounding Deborah as she breached the west side Senate doors.”

They say the material is relevant to her intent and state of mind and are an intrinsic part of the government’s case, and they claim Deborah “was part of the first wave of rioters who entered after other rioters pushed through a line of law enforcement officers.”

Prosecutors allege Deborah Sandoval entered the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, took photographs and then traversed through the Capitol before exiting through the Senate doors.

“It will be the government’s burden at trial to show that the defendant did not have a lawful right to be present at the Capitol during the riots of January 6, and that defendant did not enter the Capitol by mistake, accident, or have a good-faith belief that her entry and presence was lawful,” prosecutors have told the court. “Those videos speak to whether she knew she entered a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority … They show that any reasonable person would understand that he/she had no right to lawfully enter the building.”

The government also argues that evidence of Deborah’s “association” with the Proud Boys may become relevant at her trial to “rebut any suggestion that the defendant is unaware of, or does not support, the Proud Boys.”

According to prosecutors, a December 2020 video on Deborah’s phone shows her and her son, Salvador, driving to Washington, D.C., with Deborah announcing their plans to protest the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

On the video, Deborah allegedly asks Salvador if he is ready, Salvador nods, and Deborah responds by saying, “It ain’t over. The Supreme Court didn’t [unintelligible]. It was worded wrong. It will be refiled. But anyway, there is always martial law. Don’t concede, Trump, because we are not going to.”

In court filings, prosecutors say “this video supplies proof of Deborah and Salvador’s shared intent to obstruct the certification of the 2020 presidential election by Congress and rebuts any claim that they mistakenly wandered onto restricted Capitol grounds during the certification.”

In arguing for a change of venue for her trial, Deborah Sandoval’s attorneys say that because U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has compared the Capitol riot to “horrific events in American history,” including the Oklahoma City bombing, the case should be transferred out of the District of Columbia.

In separate court proceedings, the Sandovals are also attempting to block the enforcement of a subpoena from the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol. That subpoena allegedly seeks “connection records and records of session times and durations,” as well as all calling, messaging and data-connection records associated with their phones.

According to an FBI investigator’s sworn statement, made public in court records, video footage from inside the Capitol shows that the younger Sandoval not only entered the building “but was also engaged in assaulting law enforcement officers … The CCTV footage shows Salvador Sandoval Jr. pushing two different law enforcement officers who are clearly identified as Metropolitan Police Officers via insignias on their jackets and helmets. Salvador Sandoval Jr. also grabbed the shield of a third Metropolitan Police Officer, pulled it toward himself, but was unsuccessful in prying it free from the officer’s grasp.”

The Capitol riot led to five deaths, including that of a Capitol police officer. Trump was subsequently impeached on an article charging him with “incitement of insurrection,” but was acquitted by the Senate. Seven Republican senators voted to convict the former president.

More than 500 people have been criminally charged in connection with the riot.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.