‘Sedition Panda,’ a Jan. 6 Rioter in a Costume Head, Is Convicted

A Florida man who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, while wearing a costume panda head was convicted on Friday of assaulting a police officer and other charges related to the events of that day.

The man, Jesse James Rumson, 38, who became known as Sedition Panda, was found guilty of eight total charges, two felonies and six misdemeanors, after a bench trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

He was convicted by Judge Carl J. Nichols, who has garnered his own headlines for challenging the Justice Department’s use of a federal obstruction law to prosecute Jan. 6. rioters.

In a separate case, Judge Nichols, a Trump appointee, dismissed a charge against another Jan. 6 defendant, Joseph Fischer, for violating a federal law that makes it a crime to corruptly obstruct an official proceeding.

The judge dismissed the charge in that case on the grounds that the law strictly concerns white-collar crime, saying that it required a defendant to take “some action with respect to a document, record or other object.” An appeals court reversed the judge’s ruling, and Mr. Fischer successfully brought the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to release a decision this summer.

Prosecutors have invoked the obstruction law against hundreds of rioters, typically in the most serious cases. But prosecutors did not charge Mr. Rumson with violating that law, and Judge Nichols did not appear to have any reservations about the applicability of the charges prosecutors did bring.

In court, Judge Nichols called Mr. Rumson’s account of his actions at the Capitol “absurd” and “patently incompatible with the objective evidence and testimony,” according to prosecutors.

In response to questions about the conviction, Mr. Rumson’s lawyer, Anthony Sabatini, rebuked the Justice Department for its wider prosecution of people who stormed the Capitol.

“There are no fair trials in Washington for Jan. 6 protesters,” Mr. Sabatini said in a statement on Friday. “We have not seen one yet.”

Mr. Rumson and a friend drove from Florida to Washington on Jan. 5, 2021. The next day he donned a large panda head and attended Mr. Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on the Ellipse, according to court records.

After the rally, he marched to the Capitol and joined thousands of other rioters who breached the restricted perimeter around the building. Video footage showed that Mr. Rumson approached an area near the northwest stairs and watched the mob try to get past a line of outnumbered police officers, prosecutors said.

He was among the first rioters to enter the building after another person breached the door. Inside, Mr. Rumson got into a fight with police officers, was pepper-sprayed and was ultimately handcuffed.

He lost his costume panda head in the scuffle.

Mr. Rumson managed to get free of the handcuffs and left the building before joining a clash against a police line outside. He was at the front of a mob pushing against officers and was at one point pushed back, according to court records.

“Undeterred, however, he charged back at the line, where he reached up with his right hand and grasped the face shield” of a Prince George’s County Police corporal, prosecutors said. Mr. Rumson then yanked on the face shield and whipped the corporal’s head down and backward, causing the officer to fall over in pain.

In court on Friday, Judge Nichols said the evidence presented was damning and derided Mr. Rumson’s testimony as “impossible to reconcile” with the evidence, NBC News reported. The judge said that it was clear Mr. Rumson knew he was committing a crime by being on the grounds with the mob and that his conduct was “no accident.”

Mr. Rumson was arrested in Lecanto, Fla., last year and charged with two federal felony offenses of civil disobedience and assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers as well as six misdemeanor offenses related to trespassing and disorderly conduct on the Capitol grounds.

Mr. Rumson’s sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 5.

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