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Capitol police officers still reeling following Jan. 6 riots

Capitol riot
Posted at 9:26 AM, Jun 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-07 09:26:42-04

Two Senate committees are set to release new reports later this month on the security failures surrounding the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, but they are leaving out President Donald Trump’s role in inciting the riot.

The lack of answers is insulting to many who defended the Capitol that day, including two officers who are speaking out about their experiences during the attack.

United States Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell immigrated from the Dominican Republic to the U.S. at 12 years old in 1991 and deployed to Iraq in 2003. He joined the Capitol Police in 2008.

He is speaking publicly for the first time about Jan. 6, when he fought rioters trying to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. He says those who breached the Capitol called him a "traitor."

"I served my country," Gonell said. "I went overseas to protect our homeland from foreign threats, but yet here I am battling them in our Capitol."

Gonell led members of the department’s civil disturbance unit. For hours, they battled the rioters attacking the Capitol.

"I got hurt. I would do it again if I have to, it's my job," Gonell said.

Gonell suffered a cut to his hand on Jan. 6. He also suffered a severe foot injury that later required surgery.

"They kept saying, 'Trump sent me. We won't listen to you. We are here to take over the Capitol, we're here to hang Mike Pence,'" Gonell said. "They thought we were there for them and we weren't, so they turned against us. It was very scary because I thought I was going to lose my life right there."

Some of the most horrific videos show Gonell steps from Metropolitan Police Officer Daniel Hodges, who got caught in a doorway.

"I could hear my fellow officers screaming, the agony in some of them," Gonell said. "All I could think was, 'we can't let these people in. There's going to be a slaughter inside.'"

While he fended off the attack outside, Officer Byron Evans locked down areas inside the Capitol and evacuated senators.

"I remember thinking, all that stuff like, 'Byron, this is the day. All those times you've given thought on what you would do, you're doing it,'" Evans said,

For hours, Evans and the senators watched the riot on TV from a secured location.

"I just remember the anger I felt when I saw those images — busting windows, climbing the walls and stuff like that, it was an audible gasp in the room," Evans said.

Around 6 p.m. that evening, the riot had calmed enough that Gonell could finally tell his wife he survived.

"I started texting my wife and I just said, 'I'm okay. See you whenever,'" Gonell said.

Congress resumed certifying the electoral college votes that night. Gonell arrived home around 3 a.m. the next morning but found little relief.

"When I came in, she wanted to hug me and I told her no because I was covered in pepper spray," Gonell said. "My hands were bleeding still, and I couldn't even sleep because I went and took a shower and instead of helping, that re-inflamed the chemicals."

Gonell said he later took a bath with milk in the hopes of washing out the pepper spray.

"That didn't help," he said.

Though they were still reeling from the worst attack the Capitol had seen in two centuries, Gonell, Evans and hundreds of other officers went back to work just hours later.

"I did give my wife a hug and started crying," Gonell said. "I didn't think I would be able to see them. I went to my son's bed and gave him a hug, he was asleep still, gave him a kiss. And I just started crying for 5-10 minutes. I just cried. She kept telling me it was going to be okay. I'm like, 'no, I've got to go back to work.;"

For him, the riot is hardly in the rearview. The failure of a bill to establish a bipartisan commission to investigate the causes of the riot left him devastated and gave him a reason to speak out

"It hurts me that the country that I love, that I came in, that I have sacrificed so much for, doesn't care about us. They don't," Gonell said.

To date, more than 400 people have been charged in the riot.