In Depth

Four key moments from police officers’ Capitol Hill riot testimonies

Cop tells inquiry he thought he was ‘going to die’ during deadly demonstration

A police officer held back tears yesterday as he described being abused and attacked by a crowd of Donald Trump supporters during the storming of the US Capitol in January.

Testifying to the committee investigating the riot, Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell recalled how, as he was kicked and punched by weapon-wielding rioters, he had thought: “This is how I’m going to die.” 

Fellow law enforcer Michael Fanone, of Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police, told the inquiry that he had also feared for his life after members of the mob trying to access the House of Representatives and Senate stole his firearm. The rioters chanted “kill him with his own gun”, he said, adding: “There was a good chance I could have been torn apart or shot to death with my own weapon.”

Here are the key moments from yesterday’s opening hearing on the insurrection, which claimed the lives of five people.

1

Racial language

Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn told the inquiry that a group of around 20 demonstrators “screamed racial slurs including the n-word at him as he was trying to keep them from breaching the House chamber”, ITV reports.

Dunn said that a woman in a pink top bearing the slogan “MAGA” (“Make American Great Again”) shirt shouted: “You hear that, guys, this n***** voted for Joe Biden.”

“Boo! Fucking n*****!” the crowd of around 20 people shouted back, the Democrat-led House select committee heard.

Dunn also “said his story wasn't unique”, NPR reports, and recalled how he “heard from another black officer” that the rioters shouted: “Put your gun down, and we'll show you what kind of n***** you really are!”

2

‘This is how I’m going to die’

Multiple officers described scenes of potentially life-threatening violence while giving evidence to the panel, formed by Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi after Republicans voted against forming a bipartisan commission.

Capitol Police officer Gonell said he was “crushed” by the insurrectionists as he tried to stop them accessing the building, adding: “I could feel myself losing oxygen.” 

“For most people, 6 January happened for a few hours,” he added. “But for those of us who were in the thick of it, it has not ended. That day continues to be a constant trauma for us.”

Gonell “said his family feared he had been killed”, The Times reports, and became visibly “emotional as he described not being able to hug his wife afterwards because his clothes were covered in chemical irritants sprayed by the protesters”.

Asked by Republican Liz Cheney what he thought about the former president’s claim that the crowd was made up of “loving” people, Gonell said: “I’m still recovering from those hugs and kisses. All of them were telling us ‘Trump sent us’.”

3

‘No place for politics’

Officer Fanone also criticised the Republicans who he had fought “so desperately to defend” during the riot for subsequently refusing to investigate the events surrounding the siege. 

“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room,” said Fanone, who suffered brain injuries and a heart attack during the storming. “Too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful.”

Panel chair Bennie Thompson said in his opening remarks that “history will remember” the officers who attempted to regain control after pro-Trump supporters “came ready for a fight, and were close to succeeding”.

But the Democratic congressman also cautioned that “there’s no place for politics and partisanship in this investigation”.

4

Republican equivocation

As the committee heard evidence, Republicans were “doing some counter-programming of their own, doing press conferences and interviews where they claimed that the hearing was invalid”, CNN reports. But “some of their claims were false”, according to the news network.

Multiple Republican representatives claimed that questions should be asked about why Speaker Pelosi did not ensure Capitol Hill police officers were equipped to deal with the rioting. However, CNN reporter Tara Subramaniam points out that “the speaker of the house is not in charge of Capitol security” - a duty that falls instead to the Capitol Police Board.

Republican Representative Paul Gosar claimed that “nearly 200 individuals remain separated from their families” after being detained at the demonstration. These individuals are “not unruly or dangerous or violent people”, he said, but rather “political prisoners who are being persecuted”.

Those claims have also been rubbished, by CNN reporter Marshall Cohen, who says that Gosar “is wrong” and is “exaggerating the number of people in jail” while “falsely claiming that many of them were non-violent”.

The people still being held in jail for their involvement in the insurrection were charged with “violently assaulting police, bringing weapons to the Capitol, posting death threats or conspiring with extremist groups”, Cohen adds. 

More than 570 people were charged with taking part in the riot, but the vast majority have been released. A Florida man last week became the first person to be sentenced to prison for his role in the attack. 

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