GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - Wearing a red and white striped jumpsuit, the man accused of shooting a task force agent last week in Gautier appeared in federal court Wednesday morning.
Before the preliminary hearing began, Joseph Sonnier could be seen whispering to his mom, telling her he loved her. At one point, his words turned into an apology as he mouthed the words “I’m sorry” before wiping away a tear.
Only one witness took the stand during the hearing, a FBI agent who recounted the events of July 21, 2020, when Sonnier allegedly fired two shots at U.S. marshals who were attempting to arrest him.
Sonnier admitted to authorities that he knew there were multiple officers outside the hotel room at the Siegel Select in Gautier when he fired his weapon towards them, said the FBI agent. The remaining officers then returned fire.
According to the affidavit, Sonnier said he was trying to commit suicide and hoped the officers would kill him.
When Judge Robert Walker read the pre-trial report in court Wednesday, he noted Sonnier’s extensive criminal history, which goes back to 2010 and includes eight counts of resisting arrest and three burglaries. Sonnier pleaded guilty to one of the three burglary charges and was sentenced to 20 years. However, he was released early on that charge.
In October 2019, Sonnier was charged with two counts of kidnapping, aggravated assault, armed robbery, and possession of a firearm by a felon. Sonnier bonded out of jail on those charges in May 2020 and reportedly told authorities that he “basically had been on the run ever since.”
It was an arrest warrant in connection to those charges that led U.S. Marshals to the Gautier hotel room last week, which ended with an agent being shot and Sonnier back in police custody.
The agent - who is a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the marshals task force - was shot in the neck, testified the FBI agent, saying the bullet struck the officer on one side of his neck and exited the other side. The deputy is now recovering.
After presenting the facts in the pre-trial report and hearing the FBI agent’s testimony, Judge Walker ordered Sonnier’s case to be bound over to the grand jury.
Additionally, the judge agreed with the U.S. Attorney’s Office that Sonnier was a flight risk and potentially a danger to the community and should not be released on bond.
The pre-trial report also revealed that Sonnier reported having anger issues and PTSD after being stabbed in prison in 2015. Sonnier filed a lawsuit against Mississippi Department of Corrections following that stabbing but it was dismissed by the court.
He also reportedly told authorities that he had been active in the Simon City Royals from 2009 to 2019. He also reportedly declined a drug test, telling investigators that he would test positive for methamphetamines, heroine, valium, and marijuana.
The charges Sonnier is accused of include assault on an officer or employee of the government, felon in possession of a firearm and discharging a firearm in connection with a violent crime.
His case was bound over to the grand jury Wednesday, and the grand jury returned a federal indictment laying out the charges.
According to Count 1 of the indictment, Sonnier is alleged to have fired a firearm at J.M., a U.S. Marshals Service Task Force officer, in the course of his duties as he attempted to execute a search warrant, striking J.M. in the neck. According to Counts 2-4 of the indictment, Sonnier is alleged to have used a deadly weapon to assault, impede or otherwise restrict three other officers as they attempted to execute the same search warrant. According to Count 5 of the indictment, Sonnier is alleged to have been in possession of a firearm even though he is prohibited as a convicted felon. According to Counts 6-9 of the indictment, Sonnier is alleged to have discharged a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence.
If convicted, Sonnier faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each count of assaulting a federal officer, a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm, and 10 years on each count of discharging a firearm in connection with a violent crime.
Sonnier will have his initial appearance before United States Magistrate Judge John Gargiulo in Gulfport on Thursday, August 6, 2020, at 10 a.m.