Capitol rioter who carried zip-tie handcuffs in viral photo is sentenced to nearly 5 years in prison

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Tennessee bartender who carried plastic zip tie handcuffs and a stun gun into the Senate gallery on Jan. 6, 2021, where he was captured in one the most widely shared photos of the U.S. Capitol riot, was sentenced on Friday to nearly five years in prison.

Eric Munchel, 32, was convicted of conspiracy and other charges alongside his mother, Lisa Eisenhart, 59, who was also sentenced on Friday to two-and-a-half years in prison.

The photo that went viral after the riot shows Munchel, who was dressed like a member of a SWAT team, jumping over a railing in the Senate gallery with a handful of zip-tie handcuffs in his hand. Lawmakers preparing to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory had fled the Senate floor only minutes before rioters invaded the chamber.

“A photojournalist captured the moment in what has become an iconic picture from January 6, visually capturing the danger of the riot, to democracy in general and to our elected representatives in particular,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing. “Due to this photograph, Munchel is widely known on social media as ‘Zip Tie Guy.’”

Prosecutors added that “it is terrifying to contemplate what Munchel and Eisenhart would have done if members of Congress had still been present in the Senate Chamber when they entered it.”

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who sentenced the pair, decided their case without a jury after a “stipulated bench trial.” That means the judge based his rulings on facts that both sides agreed to before the trial started. The proceeding allows defendants to preserve appeal rights that they would have to waive if they pleaded guilty.

Munchel’s prison term — four years and nine months behind bars — matched the sentence recommended by prosecutors. They also had recommended prison sentence of three years and 10 months for Eisenhart, of Woodstock Georgia, who has worked as a nurse for over 30 years.

Before learning his sentence, Munchel told the judge that he went to Washington so he could protect his mother if any violence erupted.

“I know now that my actions were inexcusable and wrong,” Munchel said.

Eisenhart, who didn’t address the judge in court, locked arms with her son as they stood at a podium and listened to the judge impose their sentences.

The judge described Munchel and his mother as “basically good people” who accepted responsibility for their serious crimes.

Munchel and his mother traveled from Nashville, Tennessee, to Washington, D.C., two days before then-President Donald Trump’s Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally near the White House.

Both of them wore tactical vests as they walked from their hotel to join the Capitol siege, which disrupted the joint session of Congress for certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory. Munchel also wore all-black paramilitary garb with a stun gun holstered on his hip.

Munchel bumped fists with a member of the anti-government Oath Keepers extremist group before he and his mother entered the Capitol through an emergency exit door. Inside, Munchel stole zip-tie handcuffs from a shelf and handed one to his mother.

Eisenhart shouted, “Treason!” and “Cowards!” while she and her son stood in the Senate gallery, about 30 minutes after lawmakers fled the chamber. Munchel was carrying a handful of zip-tie cuffs as he leaped over a banister in the gallery.

Munchel was “ready to take hostages,” and his mother was prepared to help him and “show Congress who was really in charge,” prosecutors said.

“The logical inference is that Munchel and Eisenhart wanted to use the zip tie handcuffs to capture their enemies: the members of Congress voting to certify the election.”

Munchel and his mother only spent about 12 minutes inside the Capitol, but they managed to penetrate and occupy “one of the most sensitive and sacred areas of the Capitol,” prosecutors said.

Four days after the riot, FBI agents arrested Munchel, searched his home and seized zip ties matching those he stole at the Capitol. Einsenhart was arrested 10 days after the riot. Both of them remained jailed for over two months after their arrests.

Defense attorney Joseph Allen said Munchel went to Washington “to protest what he was convinced was an unlawful and corrupt election result.”

“Mr. Munchel is not a rioter nor is he an insurrectionist. He was and is a law-abiding citizen who found himself caught up in the events of a day which began lawfully and peacefully and then devolved into the situation in which he finds himself now,” Allen wrote in sentencing memo.

Einsenhart’s lawyer, Gregory Smith, said she and her son never threatened to use the zip ties or to capture any members of Congress.

“The government’s entire argument here is built on inferences and assumptions, which is not enough to meet their burden,” Smith wrote in a court filing.

More than 1,100 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot. More than 600 of them have been sentenced, with approximately 400 receiving terms of imprisonment ranging from three days to 22 years, according to an Associated Press review of court records.

Also this week, a man associated with the Kansas City chapter of the Proud Boys extremist group pleaded guilty to a felony charge of obstructing law enforcement during a civil disorder. Christopher Kuehne, 50, of Olathe, Kansas, marched to the Capitol with a large group of Proud Boys. After entering the building, prosecutors say he made his way to the Crypt, where he and others moved a portable lectern to block a door from closing.

Marina Medvin, an attorney for Kuehne, said in an email that her client has an “otherwise clean record,” and is a decorated military veteran and Purple Heart recipient who deployed to Iraq twice with the Marine Corps.


Associated Press reporter Alanna Durkin Richer contributed from Boston.

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

Federal News Network Logo

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up