Seffner man gets 4½ years prison for attacking police in Jan. 6 Capitol riot

A Seffner man who federal prosecutors characterized as a leading participant in the violent mob that clashed with Capitol police officers on Jan. 6, 2021, was sentenced Thursday to spend 4½ years in prison.

Mitchell Todd Gardner has been incarcerated in Washington, D.C., since July, when he pleaded guilty to three federal felony charges, including civil disorder, obstruction of an official proceeding, and assaulting, resisting or impeding officers.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta also ordered Gardner to spend 36 months on supervised release after he completes his prison term, and to pay $3,500 in restitution.

Prosecutors had sought a higher sentence, noting the violent nature of his crimes.

Gardner, 36, was described in a sentencing memo filed by his defense attorney as being ashamed of his actions.

He’d never been involved in politics before Jan. 6, according to the memo. He voted for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. He didn’t vote for former President Donald Trump in 2016, believing his initial candidacy to be a “joke” and a publicity stunt, the memo stated.

He wasn’t a political extremist, but “flourished financially” during Trump’s years in office, defense attorney Farheena Siddiqui wrote. When he heard Trump encouraging claims of election fraud, he came to believe it was true.

“The years that Trump was in office, everyone around Mr. Gardner, discussed and exalted Trump,” Siddiqui wrote. “He was surrounded by people who only watched a certain media outlet, only believed and spread the misinformation that was now popular on most right-wing news channels and outlets.”

Gardner came to the capital alone and became “wrapped up” in the events that transpired, his attorney said.

Pictures included in court documents show Gardner wearing a red sweater with the words “Reagan-Bush 84″ and a red cap emblazoned with “Trump 45th President.” He was near the front of the massive crowd that swarmed the Lower West Terrace tunnel outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2021.

As police struggled to keep the rioters out of the tunnel, Gardner, as quoted in court records, was heard shouting “drag them out,” “pull the cops out,” and “fight for Trump.” He managed to get hold of a police pepper spray canister and sprayed officers with it. He later was heard shouting for rioters to use a ladder to break a window at the top of the tunnel and used the pepper spray canister to shatter the glass himself, according to court records.

Gardner was able to access a room inside the Senate Terrace Mezzanine. He waved other rioters inside and was seen handing to another person what appeared to be a wooden table or desk leg. That person used it to attack police, court records state. In the late afternoon, Gardner returned to the tunnel area, where he watched, cheered and encouraged rioters as they continued to assault officers.

Since his arrest in 2021, Gardner has spent time in a substance abuse treatment program in Tampa, according to the defense memo. He helped other people recover from addictions. A few of them wrote letters of support on his behalf.

Gardner is one of close to 100 Floridians to be charged with crimes related to the attack on the Capitol; more rioters came from Florida than any other state.