Robert Sanford, Accused of Throwing Fire Extinguisher at Capitol Officer, Gets GPS Release

A judge ruled on Tuesday that Robert Sanford, who is accused of throwing a fire extinguisher at police during the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., poses no danger to the community and therefore can be released with a GPS monitor before his trial next month.

Sanford, 55, a retired firefighter from Chester, Pennsylvania, was arrested on January 13 in his home state. The FBI's Pennsylvania branch had identified Sanford the previous day.

Court filings say Sanford was seen on video carrying a "red object, which appears to be a fire extinguisher," as he stepped over a short wall at the lower west terrace of the Capitol building on January 6. Investigators allege he threw the fire extinguisher toward police officers, striking one who was wearing a helmet, before it rebounded and hit two others.

Stanford has been charged on four counts—knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority; disorderly or disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds; civil disorder; and assaulting, resisting, or impeding certain officers while engaged in the performance of official duties.

His trial is set for April 30. On Tuesday, the U.S. District Court for Columbia granted Stanford release with GPS monitoring and "other conditions imposed by the court" ahead of the trial.

U.S. government attorney Janani Moreira argued Sanford should have been detained because he believes the former firefighter poses both a risk of flight and danger to the community. The FBI said when it searched Sanford's residence in January, agents recovered a T-shirt associated with the Proud Boys, the far-right group that has been linked to the riots.

But Sanford's defence counsel Andrew M. Stewart argued Sanford did not pose a danger because he said he did not travel to Washington, D.C. for the purpose of a riot. Stewart said Sanford, having not traveled to the district since the age of 13, took the opportunity to take a free bus to the protests and had no plan beyond that. He added that Sanford travelled on a bus organized by Turning Point USA, a popular young conservative organization, with approximately fifty others. Sanford did not have weapons on him, Stewart added.

Stewart said Sanford did not enter the Capitol building and is not a member of any extremist group involved with planning the riot. He said that when Sanford arrived in D.C. there was already a huge crowd close to the Capitol, adding that Sanford listened to the speakers then marched to building along with the crowd. Even though there was potential for injury from Sanford's actions, none of the officers appeared to have been physically injured, Stewart added.

The defence attorney argued Sanford did not pose a flight risk because he is a retired firefighter with twenty-six years of service, lived at the same address for twenty-three years, married for twenty-two years, and has three children. He noted Sanford has no prior criminal history and no substance abuse or no past record of mental health conditions, adding that the 55-year-old surrendered to the FBI and turned in his passport.

Around 300 people have been arrested in connection with the Capitol insurrection that took place after former U.S. President Donald Trump held a rally close to the building. Five people died in the siege; four protesters and one police officer. The Democrats voted to impeach Trump for inciting the violence but the Senate later acquitted him of the charges.

Crowds swarm the Capitol building
Supporters of US President Donald Trump gather outside the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. A judge ruled on Tuesday that Robert Sanford, who is accused of throwing a fire extinguisher at police during the Capitol riot on January 6 in Washington, D.C., can be released before his trial with a GPS monitor. Alex Edelman/Getty