On June 18, 2016, an attempt was made to assassinate Donald Trump, the Republican presumptive nominee for the 2016 United States presidential election, in the final weeks of the Republican presidential primaries. While Trump was speaking at a rally in Las Vegas, Nevada, Michael Steven Sandford, a UK citizen, attempted to seize the sidearm of a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer providing security for the event before being subdued. There were no injuries. Sandford, who had a lengthy history of mental disorders, stated that he had wished to kill Trump to prevent him from becoming President.
Sandford was ultimately charged with disrupting an official function and being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm. On September 13, 2016, he pled guilty to both charges as part of a plea bargain. On December 13, 2016, he was sentenced to 12 months and one day's imprisonment. Sandford was released and deported to the UK in May 2017.
Michael Steven Sandford (born April 21, 1996, in Dorking, Surrey, England, United Kingdom) is a British citizen. His parents separated when he was five years old, with his mother raising him as a single parent.
Sandford attended Powell Corderoy Primary School, where he performed well academically. He went on to The Ashcombe School, a co-educational community comprehensive secondary school, where he struggled socially, ultimately leaving at the age of 15 with no qualifications.
Sandford first developed mental health issues at the age of eight, when he began experiencing hallucinations. He was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome at the age of thirteen; the specialist who diagnosed him said it was the most severe case she had seen in 30 years. Over the following years, Sandford experienced numerous other mental health issues, including obsessive–compulsive disorder, anorexia nervosa, claustrophobia, anxiety, and depression; he also suffered from physical ailments including epileptic seizures, cardiovascular disease, tremors, hypersensitivity, and Crohn's disease. Following his arrest, he was diagnosed as being delusional and treated with risperidone (antipsychotic medicine). Sandford was sectioned at the Maudsley Hospital at the age of 14. He remained there for four months, at one point briefly absconding.
At the age of 16, Sandford left his mother's home and began living in a rented apartment in Dorking, supporting himself using Employment and Support Allowance, Disability Living Allowance, and Housing Benefit. He later stated to his mother that at this time he had begun a relationship with a girl who was killed in a car crash while pregnant with Sandford's child on the day after his eighteenth birthday, after which he attempted suicide twice.
In January 2015, Sandford made a two-week trip to New York City in the United States, during which time he had a mental breakdown and was sectioned overnight. Later that year, Sandford returned to the United States on a temporary visa, ostensibly to visit an American girl, Lauren, he had begun a relationship with while she had been visiting the United Kingdom who had since returned to the United States and been imprisoned on drugs charges. Sandford leased an apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, using funds provided by his parents and grandmother. Over the following months, his family gradually lost contact with him. On May 21, Sandford's mother contacted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to report him missing.
Sandford's visa expired on August 30, 2015. At the time of his arrest, he had overstayed his visa by nine months. He had left his apartment in New Jersey and was living in his car in San Bernardino, California, supporting himself by working odd jobs.
On June 16, 2015, Donald Trump announced that he intended to run for President of the United States. Sandford decided that "if Trump was elected, it would change the world [...] somebody had to stand up for America." Prior to the assassination attempt, Sandford had displayed no interest in politics. Following his arrest, Sandford expressed to his father his concern about policies of Trump's such as building a wall along the United States–Mexico border and halting immigration to the United States by Muslims, calling Trump a racist. Following his release, Sandford claimed, "I was hearing voices telling me to kill Donald Trump [...]. At one point they were screaming at me."
Sandford spent the following year planning, ultimately deciding to attempt the assassination while Trump was addressing a rally in Las Vegas, Nevada on June 18, 2016. He acquired a ticket for the event, and also reserved a ticket for a subsequent rally to be held in Phoenix, Arizona, in case an opportunity did not arise during the Las Vegas rally.
On June 16, 2016, Sandford drove to Las Vegas. He visited Battlefield Vegas, a shooting range, where he practiced shooting using a rented 9mm Glock 17 pistol. This was the first time Sandford had fired a gun. Due to his status as an illegal alien, the rental of a firearm was in itself illegal.
On the evening of June 17, 2016, Sandford joined a queue at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino for the following day's rally. While waiting in the queue, he conversed with entertainer Gregg Donovan, who felt Sandford had a "strange vibe".
At 9:00 AM the following morning, the rally attendees were allowed into the Mystère Theatre. Due to Trump's political candidacy, the event was under the protection of the United States Secret Service, and magnetometers were used to detect weapons being brought into the venue. As Trump was speaking, Sandford noticed that Ameel Jacob, a police officer with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department who was providing security for the event, appeared to have his 9mm Glock 17 pistol unlocked in its holster. Sandford approached Jacob, who was positioned approximately nine meters (30 feet) from the stage where Trump was speaking, and engaged him in conversation, saying that he wanted Trump's autograph. While talking to Jacob, Sandford seized Jacob's pistol with both hands and unsuccessfully attempted to remove it from its holster. Sandford was immediately subdued by Jacob and other security personnel with no shots fired.
After being taken into custody by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Sandford was handed over to the United States Secret Service. After agreeing to waive his Miranda rights, Sandford was then interrogated by Special Agents Hall and Swierkowski, during which time he stated that his intent had been to shoot Trump, and that he would attempt it again if he were able. Sandford also stated that he had expected to be killed during the assassination attempt.
Following his arrest, Sandford was held in the Nevada Southern Detention Center. Due to his mental health conditions, Sandford was kept in solitary confinement and repeatedly put under suicide watch. His mother expressed fears that conditions in an American prison could compel Sandford to commit suicide. During the course of proceedings, Sandford's attorney, Karen Todner, a British human rights lawyer, also raised concerns about the treatment Sandford might experience in prison in the United States, but noted there was a chance Sandford could serve any sentence he received in the United Kingdom under an existing agreement with the United States.
On June 20, 2016, a complaint was filed with the United States District Court for the District of Nevada charging Sandford with committing an act of violence on restricted ground. Later that month, a federal grand jury concluded that there was sufficient evidence to charge Sandford with three felonies: two counts of being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm and one count of impeding and disrupting the orderly conduct of government business and official functions. Sandford appeared in a Nevada District Court on June 20, 2016, where he was charged with committing an act of violence on restricted grounds. He was denied bail by judge George Foley on the basis that he presented a flight risk and was a potential danger to the community.
Sandford was arraigned on July 7, 2016, pleading not guilty. His trial was set for August 22, 2016. On September 13, 2016, Sandford pled guilty in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada to charges of being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm and disrupting an official function. Prior to his trial, Sandford had signed a plea agreement that reduced his maximum sentence from 20 years to 27 months. A third charge of being an illegal alien in possession of a firearm was dropped. Sandford apologized for his actions, saying "I know saying sorry is not enough. I really do feel awful about what I did. I wish there was some way to make things better. I have cost taxpayers so much money. I feel terrible." Sandford subsequently claimed to have no memory of the assassination attempt.
Sandford was sentenced on December 13, 2016, receiving 12 months and one day's imprisonment. The sentencing judge, James C. Mahan, acknowledged Sandford's mental health issues, stating "I don't think you harbored malice in your heart...You have a medical problem...I don't see you as evil or a sociopath".
In January 2017, Sandford's mother expressed concerns that President Trump would seek to extend Sandford's sentence, and claimed that Sandford was being harassed by "Trump-supporting guards and inmates". In February 2017, Sandford was relocated to a different jail.
Sandford became eligible for early release in April 2017. In May 2017, he was released from prison and deported to the United Kingdom, arriving at Heathrow Airport on May 4, 2017. Following his release, Sandford's mother lobbied for changes to the Mental Capacity Act that would give parents more control over children with mental disorders.
Trump acknowledged the removal of Sandford from the theater, saying "We love you, police. Thank you. Thank you, officers." as Sandford was arrested, but was not aware that Sandford had intended to kill him until seeing it reported on television. When questioned on Fox News as to whether he believed that illegal immigration was related to the assassination attempt, Trump said that "I think that overstaying visas has something to do with it", but focused on immigration from the Middle East in his response.
Sandford's father stated that the assassination attempt was entirely out of character for his son and suggested that Sandford had been "put up to do it or blackmailed," or that the attempt was a "cry for help". His mother also suggested that the attempt was a bid for help. His grandmother suggested Sandford was attempting suicide by cop.
The assassination attempt received limited coverage in the American media. Writing in The Washington Post, Callum Borchers suggested that this was due to the "feebly unsophisticated" and "poorly conceived" nature of the attempt (drawing parallels to Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who made an unsuccessful bid to assassinate Barack Obama in 2011) and due to Trump's lack of interest in using the attempt to lobby for increased gun control. Borchers noted, however, that a number of conservative news outlets had made accusations that the media was intentionally providing little coverage of the event. Following Sandford's arrest, the conservative American political blog Hot Air criticized the media coverage of the event, claiming that the media was "curiously uninterested". Upon Sandford's guilty plea, Hot Air suggested that "[Sandford is] getting off fairly light when you consider he was trying to murder a presidential candidate". In August 2016, Irish journalist Patrick Cockburn wrote that, had the assassination been successful, it would have "imparted the moral authority of martyrdom to Trump's ideas".
A documentary about Sandford and his family by Guy Simmonds, The Brit Who Tried to Kill Trump, was commissioned by the BBC. It aired on BBC One in the United Kingdom on January 29, 2017. That same month, the international distribution rights were awarded to Passion Distribution.
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