Ex-Georgia sheriff's deputy who attacked police during Capitol riot sentenced to nearly 6 years in prison

Rioters loyal to President Donald Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6, 2021. Ronald Colton McAbee, a former Georgia sheriff's deputy who was employed as a Tennessee sheriff's deputy when he assaulted police officers protecting the U.S. Capitol from a mob of Donald Trump supporters, Jan. 6. 2021, was sentenced on Thursday to nearly six years in prison. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

A former Cherokee County sheriff’s deputy who was employed as a Tennessee sheriff’s deputy when he assaulted police officers protecting the U.S. Capitol from a mob of Donald Trump supporters was sentenced on Thursday to nearly six years in prison.

Ronald Colton McAbee wore a bulletproof vest with two patches — one that said “SHERIFF” and another bearing an insignia for the Three Percenters militia movement — when he stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. 2021.

During a melee on the Capitol’s Lower West Terrace, McAbee dragged an officer away from a police line and punched another officer who tried to stop him.

McAbee said he never intended to “strike fear or be part of the chaos” on Jan. 6. Neither officer assaulted by McAbee attended his sentencing.

“I wish they were here so I can tell them I’m sorry,” McAbee said before U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras sentenced him to five years and 10 months behind bars.

“I take attacks on law enforcement very, very seriously, as I suspect you did before that day,” the judge told McAbee.

McAbee will get credit for the two years and seven months that he already has served in jail since his arrest.

Prosecutors recommended sentencing McAbee to 12 years and seven months in prison. Only six Jan. 6 riot defendants have received a longer prison sentence than that.

McAbee expressed condolences to the families of rioters and police officers who died on Jan. 6 and the days that followed. He performed CPR on Rosanne Boyland, a Georgia woman in the mob who died during the riot.

“I’m sorry for all the families that lost someone,” McAbee said.

But the judge noted that McAbee appeared to be proud of his violent “exploits” on Jan. 6. A day after the riot, McAbee smiled and held a newspaper with the headline “INSURRECTION” as he posed for a photograph with a friend, prosecutors said.

“Notably, he did not mention anything about Ms. Boyland or attempting to help her,” Contreras said.

McAbee pleaded guilty to two counts, including a felony assault charge, before a federal jury convicted him of five other counts after a trial last year.

McAbee was on medical leave from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in Tennessee when he and a friend drove to Washington, D.C., and attended then-President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House on Jan. 6.

McAbee wore brass knuckle gloves and a shirt bearing a Three Percenters emblem and slogans. Three Percenters refers to the myth that only 3% of Americans fought in the Revolutionary War against the British.

After watching rioters clash with police outside the Capitol, McAbee joined the fray near a tunnel leading to an entrance on the Lower West Terrace. Metropolitan Police Department officer Andrew Wayte was on his back on the ground when McAbee grabbed one of his legs and dragged him away from his fellow officers.

“When other officers attempted to assist their fallen colleagues, McAbee interfered with their efforts, cursing at them and striking one of them,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

McAbee then lifted the officer up by his torso, causing him to cry out in pain before they slid together down a set of steps. He pinned the officer down for more than 25 seconds as other rioters attacked him and fired pepper spray at his face.

Defense attorney Benjamin Schiffelbein said McAbee was trying to alert police when he “briefly moved” Officer Wayte and pointed at Boyland’s body.

“Mr. McAbee placed himself in an impossible situation: stand and watch as a woman lay dying in front of officers who did not notice her, or to try to help her,” Schiffelbein wrote in a court filing.

A medical examiner’s office later determined that Boyland died from acute amphetamine intoxication.

After his attacks on police, McAbee “sought camaraderie and favor” from other officers still fighting off the mob.

“Can I get in?” he asked, tapping the “sheriff” patch on his vest. “I can’t go back that way, man.”

Two men charged with McAbee were also convicted of assaulting Officer Wayte, whose injuries prevented him from returning to work for months. Justin Jersey, was sentenced to four years and three months in prison. The other, Clayton Ray Mullins, was sentenced to two years and six months of imprisonment.

McAbee previously served as a deputy for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia before leaving in November 2020 to join the sheriff’s office in Tennessee. McAbee worked for the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office until March 23, 2021, according to prosecutors.

More than 1,300 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. Over 800 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from a few days to 22 years.