The strain, stress and trauma of the vicious fighting at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 continues to impact the men and women of the police department, a sergeant told the News4 I-Team. At least 75 of members have retired or left the agency since the insurrection.
U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who was part of the front-line battle against the violent mob in the U.S. Capitol west tunnel, remains off the job with foot, hand and shoulder injuries. Gonell is one of the 10 Capitol Police employees who remained on leave with injuries as of late summer, according to a News4 I-Team review.
Gonell, a longtime member of the U.S. Capitol Police riot unit, said he defended the tunnel entrance against some of the most violent fighting during the attack. Amid a cloud of chemical spray, Gonell said he fought for hours to hold back the loud and violent crowd. He told the I-Team one of the attackers wielded a stolen police baton and used it to smash and injure his hand. Others grabbed at his police shield and pulled on his upper body, he said, tearing his shoulder.
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Gonell gained notoriety in July when he testified publicly at a hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. During the same hearing, it was revealed that at least one member of the U.S. House was hiding just steps away from the attacking mob near Gonell’s police line in the tunnel.
“This was not just an attack on police officers,” Gonell told the News4 I-Team, “It was an attack on our government, the seat of democracy.”
Gonell, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq in 2004, said the violence and horrors he saw at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 were unlike anything he witnessed at war. He said the mix of chemical spray, rioters wielding stolen police equipment and military gear, and the flashing lights and sirens from the fire alarms were disorienting and unnerving.
“It was claustrophobic. You have the tear gas, the bear spray, the fire alarm system going off and the yelling,” Gonell said.
“This happened at home and by my own fellow citizens,” he said. “They were chanting to overturn and overthrow the government.”
At least one Jan. 6 defendant has pleaded guilty to assaulting Gonell. Under the signed plea agreement, the defendant admits hitting Gonell with a pipe. He’ll face sentencing in D.C. federal court Nov. 22.
A police union official said between 75 and 100 officers have departed the agency since January. A Capitol Police official confirmed the estimate is correct. In a statement, the agency said, “This year the Department has had a couple of mandatory retirements, a few disability retirements, and nearly two dozen people transferred to other agencies. It’s also important to note that attrition has been a major issue for law enforcement agencies across the country.”
Gonell said he is continuing with physical therapy after undergoing surgery for his injuries. He said he hopes to return to work, to continue to serve. He said he is proud of his fellow officers.
“We wanted to serve the Constitution; we wanted to preserve our democracy,” he said.
Reported by Scott MacFarlane, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.