Iowans charged in Capitol riot argue self-defense and selective prosecution

By: - August 5, 2022 12:52 pm

Footage from a closed-circuit television camera inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, allegedly shows Salvador Sandoval Jr. of Iowa, the hooded figure circled in red, assaulting police officers. Sandoval’s mother, Deborah Sandoval, allegedly distributed to others a photo of herself at the Capitol (inset) during the riot. (Photos from U.S. District Court records)

Two Iowans criminally charged in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are arguing in court that they acted in self-defense and are the victims of selective prosecution.

Salvador Sandoval Jr. of Ankeny, and his mother, Deborah Sandoval of Des Moines, are facing charges that include with entering and remaining in a restricted building; disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building; disorderly conduct in a Capitol Building, and parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol Building.

In addition, Salvador Sandoval is charged with obstruction of an official proceeding, civil disorder, multiple counts of assaulting a federal law enforcement officer, engaging in an act of physical violence in a Capitol Building, and engaging in physical violence on restricted grounds.

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

The Sandovals have pleaded innocent to the charges. A trial is scheduled for Dec. 14.

‘I bought a phone that can’t be tracked’

In recent court filings, lawyers for Salvador Sandoval indicated they plan to claim their client acted in self-defense at the Capitol, but they did not elaborate.

Lawyers for the government are contesting that defense, saying there is no legal or factual basis for such a claim.

“Within approximately one minute of breaching the east side doors of the Capitol, Salvador  proceeded into the rotunda and assaulted a law enforcement officer by stealing his shield,” the Department of Justice has told the court. “Salvador then retreated into the entryway of the east-door area and assaulted three additional officers. There is simply no basis for Salvador to claim self-defense when he had illegally entered a restricted area of the U.S. Capitol. The videos further show that no officer used excessive force against Salvador at any time.”

Government prosecutors have also indicated they plan to introduce evidence showing the Sandovals were aware they had committed crimes that day.

“After Deborah and Salvador returned home to Iowa following the riot, they deleted potential evidence and sought to evade capture by law enforcement,” the Department of Justice claims in court filings. They say Deborah Sandoval deleted materials from her phone and then sent a Facebook message to an acquaintance, saying, “I erased all.” She then purchased a burner phone and allegedly sent a Facebook message that said, “I bought a phone that can’t be tracked.”

Salvador Sandoval, meanwhile, is alleged to have deleted all his social media accounts on Facebook, Yahoo, Tumblr, Twitter and other platforms, in the wake of the insurrection. Then, on Jan. 12, he allegedly purchased an assault rifle.

When federal agents executed a search warrant at his home, they seized the assault rifle, two backpacks already stocked with ready-to-eat meals, clothing, and a burner phone that was purchased a few days after the riot.

“The defendants’ post-January 6 actions show their lack of mistake or accident on January 6,” prosecutors allege. “They knew they committed a crime, and now it was time to cover it up.”

Sandovals: Trump backers ‘unwittingly’ trespassed

The Sandovals have also told the court they plan to argue that they have been targeted by the Department of Justice for selective prosecution because of their political beliefs, noting that “thousands of individuals” were at the Capitol Building during the insurrection, but many of them have not been arrested.

In court filings, they cite discredited claims by a right-wing blog, Revolver News, that has claimed federal agents instigated the attack on the Capitol to induce “a subsequent flood of unsuspecting MAGA protesters to unwittingly trespass on Capitol restricted grounds and place themselves in legal jeopardy.”

In response, prosecutors acknowledge that not all rioters have been charged, adding that is “because the government has had to marshal an unprecedented level of investigatory resources to identify and charge each defendant who participated in the U.S. Capitol attack.”

As of July 7, the government had arrested 855 individuals on allegations of criminal conduct associated with the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The Sandovals have also asked the court to suppress any video footage that does not include them.  Prosecutors have pointed out that a federal judge has already denied a near-identical motion in a separate case.

“A reasonable jury could find that, in light of the scene in front of them — law enforcement pushing back rioters with alarms ringing and tear gas dispelled — Salvador and Deborah must have known that they had entered and remained in a restricted area without lawful authority,” government lawyers told the court this week.

A judge has yet to rule on the Sandovals’ motions.

‘It ain’t over … Don’t concede, Trump’

In previous court filings, Deborah Sandoval’s lawyers argued that she went to Washington, D.C., only to attend President Trump’s rally near the White House and had no plans to go to the Capitol building.

She only went to the Capitol, they say, “at the invitation and urging of the former president, who told the crowd he would be walking with them.”

Prosecutors allege Deborah Sandoval was in the first wave of rioters to enter the Capitol and that she then entered the office of Sen. Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, took photographs, and then made her way through the Capitol.

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

In the video, according to prosecutors, Deborah 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.”

According to an FBI investigator’s sworn statement, made public in court records, closed-circuit television footage from inside the Capitol shows the younger Sandoval was “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 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.

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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.

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