Hancock Co. man pleads guilty in 2020 shooting of U.S. marshal in Gautier

CAUGHT ON VIDEO: Shots fired at a hotel in Gautier leaving one officer injured

GULFPORT, Miss. (WLOX) - A Hancock County man has pleaded guilty to five counts in connection to a shooting last year that left a U.S. marshal injured.

Joseph Dale Sonnier, 32, appeared in court on Thursday, where he pleaded guilty to four counts of assaulting and resisting officers and one count of discharging a firearm.

Sonnier was originally facing nine counts in connection to the shooting, which happened on July 21, 2020, when U.S. marshals and law enforcement officers were attempting to arrest him at the Siegel Select, an extended stay hotel in Gautier.

Joseph Dale Sonnier, 32, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges related to the July 21, 2020, shooting of a U.S. marshal during an arrest attempt at a Gautier hotel.
Joseph Dale Sonnier, 32, pleaded guilty Thursday to federal charges related to the July 21, 2020, shooting of a U.S. marshal during an arrest attempt at a Gautier hotel. (Source: MDOC)

The day of the shooting, agents attempted to knock on the door of Sonnier’s room to arrest him in connection to multiple warrants he had from charges stemming back to 2019, which included 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, according to an affidavit filed last year, told authorities that he “basically had been on the run ever since.”

When agents attempted to knock on his hotel room door two months later, Sonnier admitted in the affidavit that he knew they were there and would not come out. Sonnier said he then asked the marshals if he could smoke a cigarette but they continued to tell him to come out with his hands up. At that time, Sonnier admitted to firing two rounds from a High-Point .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at the four agents outside, said the affidavit.

One of the rounds struck a marshal in the neck. The remaining agents returned fire, said the affidavit.

The bullet grazed the neck of the agent, who is a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy assigned to the marshals task force, missing any vital veins or arteries, said Harrison County Sheriff Troy Peterson in the days after the shooting. The agent has since recovered.

According to the affidavit, Sonnier said he was trying to commit suicide and hoped the officers would kill him.

In court last year, the judge said Sonnier has an extensive criminal history that goes back to 2010 and includes resisting arrest and multiple burglary charges. He pleaded guilty to three of the burglary charges and was sentenced to 20 years. However, he was released early.

The pre-trial report filed last fall 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.

According to a federal agent who testified in a hearing last year following the arrest, Sonnier told authorities he was an active member of the Simon City Royals for ten years and declined to take a drug test, telling investigators that he would test positive for methamphetamines, heroine, valium, and marijuana.

Sonnier is set to be sentenced in federal court on July 8, 2021. 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.

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