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April 12, 2023

Retired Delco firefighter sentenced to 52 months in prison for throwing fire extinguisher at police during D.C. Capitol attack

Robert Sanford saught treatment from a specialist on cult deprogramming and learned how the websites he relied on helped sway his mind on conspiracies involving the 2020 election, his defense attorney says

A retired Delaware County firefighter was sentenced to more than four years in prison for assaulting police officers during the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. Robert Sanford, of Boothwyn, Delaware County, will also have three years of supervised release and will have to pay restitution determined at a later date. 

During the Washington, D.C. riot, Sanford who served as a firefighter for 26 years, threw a fire extinguisher and a traffic cone, hitting and injuring police officers. 

Sanford, who retired in 2020 rode a bus from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, to participate in a Stop the Steal protest over the 2020 U.S. presidential election results.

After the rally, Sanford walked into a restricted area at the U.S. Capitol building on the Lower West Terrace, where there was a presence of U.S. Capitol police officers and Metropolitan Police Department officers. He threw an orange traffic cone and then a fire extinguisher at officers. Surveillance video showed Sanford wearing a black and grey jacket, black backpack, and blue knit hat. Camera evidence also showed Sanford yelling obscenities at officers and calling them, "traitors."

Two officers sustained head injuries from the assault, court documents detail. One sustained a bump and swelling on his head, while the other experienced a headache after being struck in the head.

Sanford hung around the area for several minutes after throwing the items before leaving on his own, prosecutors said.

Sanford was arrested on Jan. 14, 2021, for assaulting officers during the riot after the FBI identified him with provided video, body camera footage, and surveillance videos. 

Last September, Sanford admitted to throwing the items during the riot, pleading guilty to assaulting officers and impeding police officers using a dangerous weapon. He has been in custody since last fall. He was the 38th person from Pennsylvania to be convicted in relation to the insurrection. 

Sanford who believed that the presidential election results should be overturned began speaking with a specialist in cult programming to work through his conspiracy theory thoughts, his defense attorney Andrew Stewart said. Sanford was given the facts about the election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden and confronted about his baseless position that the election was stolen from the former president.

“Even after he was incarcerated, he participated in regular discussions designed to challenge his ideology and belief structure, then help him understand how and why he developed the beliefs that led him to make the decisions that he did on January 6," Stewart said"Mr. Sanford learned how mental health problems, whether diagnosed or not, cause isolation which, when paired with belief in a conspiracy, gradually cause more isolation. He learned how the websites he was relying on for news would use algorithms to facilitate his trip down the proverbial conspiracy rabbit hole with more and more extreme articles. Consequently, it becomes easier to dismiss ideas and facts that do not fit with one’s narrative."

The Jan. 6 attack injured over 100 police officers and resulted in over $2.8 million in damages.

There have been 1,001 people charged in connection to the Jan. 6 attack. Of those charged, 452 have been ordered to pay restitution, 401 are on probation, 260 are in prison and 115 are on house arrest. Additionally, 221 received community service and 125 were fined.