Maybe it was the death threat delivered by a fellow law-enforcement officer while he stood shackled in belly chains.
Perhaps it was being described as a “terrorist” by a federal judge who will preside over his trial.
It could have been being released on bail by a U.S. magistrate judge in Tennessee, only to be ordered held until trial by a U.S. district judge in Washington D.C.
Former sheriff’s deputy Ronald Colton McAbee, 28, of Tennessee, has faced a difficult road since being indicted for alleged criminal actions at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Arguably the most trying situation for McAbee was being denied bail for nearly a year based on video evidence that his attorney now says exonerates him.
“What makes the government’s case weak is the fact that the videos actually exonerate Mr. McAbee of the very allegations made against him, and Mr. McAbee is motivated to appear for trial, take the stand and narrate those videos for [the] jury,” wrote attorney William Shipley in a May 2022 motion to have his client released from jail.
McAbee, a former sheriff’s deputy in Tennessee and Georgia with more than seven years of law-enforcement experience as a deputy and correctional officer, was charged by federal prosecutors with seven alleged crimes.
Charges included assaulting, resisting, or impeding a federal officer, two counts of civil disorder, entering and remaining in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, disorderly and disruptive conduct in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, engaging in physical violence in a restricted building or grounds with a deadly or dangerous weapon, and committing an act of physical violence in the Capitol grounds or buildings.
McAbee was outside the Lower West Terrace tunnel during some of the worst violence on January 6. Several times he tried to render lifesaving aid to a dying Rosanne Boyland, 34, of Kennesaw, Georgia. His interactions with Metropolitan Police Department officers resulted in most of the charges and served as justification for a D.C. judge to jail him until trial.
McAbee was arrested on Aug. 17, 2021, in Tennessee. At a detention hearing on Aug. 26, prosecutors argued that McAbee assaulted Metropolitan Police Department Officer Andrew Wyatt. They said after Wyatt fell at the tunnel entrance, McAbee—who had a broken shoulder from a car accident nine days earlier—pulled him down the concrete stairs into a hostile crowd.
The prosecutor played a video for the court, but there was no sound, according to Sarah McAbee, Ronald McAbee’s wife. The lack of audio would later prove to be a crucial element of the story.
After the detention hearing was continued on Sept. 8, 2021, Magistrate Judge Jeffery Frensley ruled against the U.S. Department of Justice and ordered McAbee released pending trial.
No Danger to Community
“I do not believe that Mr. McAbee poses a future danger to the community if he were to be released between now and the time that he resolves this case,” Judge Frensley said. “And the government, despite my request that they provide me any evidence that he’s presented any sort of a danger to the community, have been able to point to absolutely nothing beyond the events around and during January the 6th.”
Judge Frensley said what he saw on the video was open to interpretation. McAbee’s guilt or innocence could not be part of the consideration for bond, he said.
“We have a system that presumes innocence, and for me to make a decision where I become judge, jury, and executioner all in the same role without affording him the rights he’s entitled to under the constitution is inappropriate,” Frensley said. “And that’s the important distinction between the bond decision and the decision on guilt that will follow at a trial.”
That victory for McAbee was short-lived. Prosecutors filed an emergency appeal the same day in U.S. District Court in Washington D.C. Senior District Judge Emmet Sullivan stayed Frensley’s order and scheduled hearings on the government’s motion to keep McAbee behind bars until trial.
During a hearing on Sept. 22, 2021, Sullivan seemed to telegraph his eventual decision to hold McAbee without bond.
When being shown a video with McAbee wearing body armor with a patch that read “Sheriff,” Judge Sullivan said, “That’s pretty outrageous,” according to the official hearing transcript. A short time later, Sullivan said, “These videos are very disturbing.” He made several statements agreeing with the prosecutor’s assessment of the evidence.
Sullivan then suggested McAbee is a terrorist.
“So it appears clearly to this court that the defendant is pulling the officer back into the crowd of other terrorists,” Sullivan said, according to the transcript.
After another hearing on Oct. 13, 2021, Sullivan reversed Frensely’s order and ruled that McAbee should not be released pending trial. Sullivan said he would issue a written ruling, which was released more than two months later on Dec. 21, 2021.
While Frensley told prosecutors they did not show evidence that McAbee had done anything to prove he was a danger during the eight months between January 6 and his August arrest, Sullivan ruled that the only way to protect the community is to keep McAbee in jail.
“The court concludes that clear and convincing evidence supports a finding that no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Judge Sullivan wrote (pdf) in his 41-page ruling.
Sarah McAbee was stunned.
“It’s just the craziest situation, them saying he’s a danger to the community when he’s been a law enforcement officer and never has had stripes on his record, let alone a speeding ticket,” Sarah McAbee told The Epoch Times.
A break in McAbee’s case came when video investigator Gary McBride of Decatur, Texas, studied the bodycam footage shown in court, except with the audio track turned on. It painted a vastly different picture of what took place, McBride told The Epoch Times.
“The prosecutors did not play the audio of AW [Andrew Wyatt] and McAbee talking during this point,” McBride said in a video he made about the evidence. “McAbee is trying to save AW. Prosecutors didn’t play that in court.”
McBride said his analysis showed McAbee did not pull the officer down the stairs, but was swept backward and lost his balance, due to two protesters pulling on the officer’s legs. McAbee was standing over Wyatt at the time. As a result, McAbee fell on top of Wyatt and was over him for about 25 seconds.
While McAbee was on top of Wyatt, bystanders called him a traitor, ostensibly for helping the officer. When someone in the crowd tried to grab at Wyatt, McAbee shouted, “No!” and “Quit!”
“At that point, my husband just saw an officer down and an officer needing help, because the first thing he says, when he pops in around the tunnel before he gets around the rail is, ‘Hey, you guys have a man down,’” Sarah McAbee said. “They literally did nothing to help that guy. So he’s the one who jumped into action.”
Sarah said she was relieved when she learned the audio track from the evidence videos backs up what her husband told her that day.
Story is Consistent
“My husband’s story has not changed from January 6. There’s actually a picture of him that they have on the FBI website of him on the phone,” she said. “I know that’s a phone call with me about everything that just went down.
“His story has not changed from that day to today. He’s just not a liar. That’s just not who he is and even the little details have always remained the same.”
McBride and Sarah McAbee said the audio track should have been disclosed to the defense as exculpatory evidence.
If you listen to the audio, he says, ‘Hey, I’m one of you. Let me know when you’re ready to get up. I’m going to help you up.’ And they get up together,” Sarah McAbee said. “That’s not him assaulting anybody. It’s the same videos, they just wouldn’t play the audio in court, because the audio is so detrimental to their case.”
According to the transcript developed by McAbee’s legal team, after someone in the crowd shouted, “[expletive] traitor!” McAbee asked Officer Wyatt, “You ready?” and then added, “I’m one of you. I’m one of you.”
Wyatt replied, “Let go of me, man!” McAbee then told him, “I’m helping you.” Wyatt replied, “I know. I know. Help me up.”
William Miller, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, declined to comment. “We typically do not comment on cases beyond our public filings and statements to the Court and have no comment,” Miller said in an email statement to The Epoch Times.
A Difficult Journey
The road since January 6 has been a rough one for the McAbees. Ronald McAbee was in a serious automobile accident on Dec. 27, 2020, and suffered a broken shoulder. His decision to attend President Donald Trump’s speech wasn’t necessarily a popular one in the McAbee home.
McAbee asked a friend to order him a pair of motorcycle gloves that have carbon-fiber reinforcements in the knuckles and fingers. The gloves are designed to protect the hands from flying debris while riding, or from injury in the event of a crash. Prosecutors classified the gloves as a “deadly weapon” in the charges against McAbee.
According to McAbee’s filings in the case, he wanted to have the gloves because there had been attacks on Trump supporters by Antifa at other events in Washington. There is no evidence he used the gloves in any attack or offensive manner, his attorney said.
The ordeal has been a trying one for Sara McAbee. She married her high school sweetheart in 2016 and had recently moved back to Tennessee from Georgia to be closer to family. Then came January 6.
When her husband was initially arrested and jailed, she drove five hours to a detention center in Kentucky to see him. She said she spoke to someone at the jail the night before to make sure it was okay to visit. After a more than five-hour drive, she showed up, only to be told McAbee had just left on a bus for another facility.
Ronald McAbee was flown from Lexington to Atlanta and then to Oklahoma. While waiting to board the flight in Atlanta, a law enforcement officer guarding McAbee asked about his charges for allegedly assaulting a police officer, Sarah McAbee said.
“He’s trying to explain it to him. [The officer] looked at him and said, ‘You touch one of my officers, you’re dead,’” she said. “My husband is like, ‘You can’t threaten me like that. … I’m bound by waist chains. What do you think I’m going to do?’”
McAbee eventually was transferred to the District of Columbia’s Central Detention Facility, dubbed by January 6 defendants as the “DC Gulag.”
New Efforts to Secure Freedom
The motion (pdf) seeking reconsideration of McAbee’s pretrial detention is pointed in its criticisms of Judge Sullivan, and accuses prosecutors of “misrepresentation of the video evidence.”
“There is no evidence—it did not happen as admitted by the government—that Mr. McAbee assaulted Officer AW while Officer AW was in that vulnerable position,” attorney Shipley wrote.
Shipley noted that McAbee was thanked by Metropolitan Police Department Officer Steven Sajumon for helping Officer Wyatt get back to the police line. “That exchange is captured on the audio of the video submitted with this motion,” Shipley wrote. McAbee’s previous attorney in Tennessee, Isaiah Gant, said the officer told McAbee: “Hey, man, thank you. We appreciate you.”
Makhetha Watson, a spokeswoman with the Metropolitan Police Department Office of Communications, declined to comment on McAbee’s assertions.
Judge Sullivan made repeated statements that he accepted prosecution evidence and believed McAbee guilty, Shipley wrote.
Sullivan said McAbee allowed his personal beliefs “to override his sworn duty to uphold the rule of law as a law enforcement officer and even [fought] against officers with whom one would expect he held a mutual respect or kinship,” the motion said.
“That is another pronouncement of Mr. McAbee’s factual guilt by this court,” Shipley wrote.
Sullivan has yet to rule on the motion.
Sarah McAbee said she is left with many questions after a nearly year-long ordeal. How did her husband survive a potentially deadly vehicle crash, only to end up in jail from a protest?
“You just have to believe this is bigger than any of us could ever fathom,” she said. “And that hopefully, because he does have such a unique perspective of being in law enforcement and being inside the jail, and now he’s on the other side of the wall, maybe reform will come from this if enough good men stand.”
She said she is especially proud of her husband for the aid he rendered to Boyland. Video shows McAbee assisting another bystander as they gave CPR to Boyland after she was pulled away from the police line where she was beaten. He helped carry her in front of the police line, then tried starting CPR on her again.
“I would expect nothing less of him. It makes me proud to be his wife to know that he, at the expense of himself, tried to save somebody else,” Sarah McAbee said. “You know, he just runs into action. … He just was in life-saving mode.”