A New York man who wandered onto a highway days after storming the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 has been sentenced to probation and mental health treatment.
Robert Ballesteros, 28, will remain under court supervision for 36 months, U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich said at a sentencing hearing Thursday. She also ordered Ballesteros to complete 40 hours of community service and participate in mental health and substance abuse programs.
Ballesteros will also have to pay $500 in restitution toward the estimated $2.7 million damage to the Capitol.
Ballesteros had driven from his home in Mahopac, New York, to Washington, D.C., to attend Donald Trump‘s Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally protesting the results of the 2020 presidential election. After the rally, he joined the crowd of Trump supporters heading to the Capitol, ultimately joining a stream of rioters that had entered the building near the Senate Wing doors at around 2:25 p.m.
Once inside, Ballesteros went to the Capitol rotunda and crypt, taking video and posting his progress on Instagram.
“We broke in!” he could be heard saying on one of his videos, according to prosecutors. “We are in the Capitol!”
He deleted his posts within 24 hours of posting them, prosecutors say.
Ballesteros pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating, or picketing in a Capitol building. He had requested a sentence of 24 months of probation, 60 hours of community service, and a requirement that he participate in mental health treatment.
Ballesteros’ mental health loomed large throughout the hearing Thursday. References to his condition were largely redacted from his sentencing memorandum, and while lawyers had alluded to a mental health incident that resulted in injury, those references were relatively vague at first.
Eventually, Ballesteros’ lawyer Charles Compton Spain provided details.
“A week after this incident, he wandered out on the highway and was struck by a car,” Spain said, adding that his client was hospitalized for about a month afterwards.
Ballesteros’ public defender Maria Jacob said that while his “immature” and “knee-jerk” reaction to participating in Jan. 6 was to defend his actions, he has since “completely distanced himself and has focused on his rehabilitation.”
U.S. Attorney Brittany Reed said that while the government was not unsympathetic to Ballesteros’ mental health issues, he was “very much well aware of the conduct” he was engaging in at the Capitol that day, and by the next day should have shown more remorse.
Ultimately, Friedrich opted to keep Ballesteros out of jail, signaling her intent to keep a close eye on him going forward.
“In this situation, it’s critically important that Mr. Ballesteros stay under the supervision of the court,” Friedrich said, after noting that his remorse did strike her as genuine.
Prosecutors had requested a sentence of 14 days in jail and 60 hours of community service.
Friedrich rejected this, telling Reed that the government’s sentencing request amounted to a “split sentence” of jail and probation, since community service would require ongoing supervision from the court. Friedrich reiterated her previously-stated conclusion that current law requires a choice of “either/or,” and that in petty misdemeanor cases like this one, she cannot issue a sentence of jail and probation. Other judges in the D.C. district have disagreed, and the issue of split sentences in Jan. 6 cases remains largely unresolved.
“Mr. Ballesteros, I wish you all the best,” Freidrich said, after issuing her sentence. “To the extent you have any remaining frustration with the political system, I suggest you funnel those [feelings into] peaceful protests, political contributions, [but] not like anything that happened on Jan. 6.”
Friedrich, a Trump appointee, had similarly supportive words regarding her colleagues on the bench. Responding to Spain’s comment that his experience with her in Ballesteros’ case “restored [his] faith” thanks to her thoroughness and careful consideration, Friedrich said that her fellow judges deserve similar praise.
“All of my colleagues are doing the same,” she said. “We are taking these cases very seriously and trying to do justice in your case. I certainly appreciate your remarks. To the extent you haven’t had a chance to appear before other colleagues here, let me assure you they’re all doing much [of] the same.”
[Images via FBI court filing.]
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