“They called us traitors. You hit us. They dragged us, ”Gonell told CNN in his first interview about the violence he witnessed and witnessed on January 6th. “And I could hear her, ‘We’re going to shoot you. We will kill you. You choose your paycheck across the country. You are a disgrace. You are a traitor. ‘”
“I remember thinking, all that stuff like Byron, today is the day. All the times that you’ve wondered what you’d do, you do it. This is the day, ”said Evans.
“This could be the day I may have to use lethal force,” he said. “I had heard of gunshots on the radio.”
Gonell and Evans are just two of the thousands of U.S. Capitol Police Officers, Metropolitan Police Officers, National Guard troops, and federal agents who fought violent rioters, guarded lawmakers, and stormed into the Capitol to stop the deadly turmoil that unfolded at their hearts american democracy. The two officers first publicly shared their experience with CNN on Jan. 6, offering a glimpse of how Capitol law enforcement officers are still struggling to make sense of what happened that day and grappling with guilt the more weren’t done to stop it.
CNN spoke to Evans in an interview arranged by the U.S. Capitol Police after CNN asked to speak to officers who were there on Jan. 6. Gonell spoke to CNN in his personal capacity and did not represent the department.
Especially after the mother and girlfriend of the fallen Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick launched a last-minute lobbying campaign to convince GOP senators to support the commission, many police officers were deeply disappointed after the law was not passed.
“Fighting inch for inch”
The wounds of January 6 are all too obvious to Gonell.
His firing hand was cut open during the attack, making pulling the trigger on his weapon a challenge. His shoulders are still bruised. He tried to get rid of an injury to his right foot, but two weeks after the attack, he said, he finally sought medical help because he could no longer walk. As a result, Gonell needed bone fusion surgery so that he could walk without the pain returning.
Gonell said the FBI asked him to watch a video of the attack to help identify the rioters. It is still difficult for him to watch footage of the January 6 events, he said, as he relived the battles he fought during his attack.
Gonell immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic at the age of 12, eventually joined the Army Reserve, and was stationed in Iraq in 2003. In 2008 he joined the Capitol Police Force. As head of the Department’s Civil Disturbance Unit, he was one of the fraction of officers in riot gear on January 6, fighting on the front lines against rioters he attacked on the orders of then President Donald Trump.
“When we were on Lower West Terrace, and throughout the ordeal, I had people calling me immigrants, you’re not an American, you’re a traitor,” Gonell said. “I’ve gone overseas to protect our home country from foreign threats, but here I fight them in our own capitol.”
He still has a vivid memory of the battle he faced: the pepper spray that forced him and other officers from the front lines, the American flagpoles, rocks, and even crash barriers that were blown from the opening stage to attack officers, and the struggle to keep the flood of insurgents from entering the door he is guarding.
“I was bleeding, I was sweating, and I was fighting to keep these people from coming through that entrance,” Gonell said. “We were pushed back through the second door to the magnetometer. And just to regain that space, it took us another hour or so. We literally fought inch by inch. And to take a step it was 10 minutes, 15 minutes. Minute ordeal. “
In one particularly harrowing incident, Gonell said he dragged an officer who had fallen to the ground away from the rioters. Then the mob grabbed him. For the next five minutes, Gonell said, he was fighting for his life as rioters grabbed whatever they could and pulled on his shield, shoulder straps, and uniform.
“It was very scary because I thought I was going to lose my life,” said Gonell. “Then I started getting hit with a flagpole, with a flag, the American flag, which I swore to defend here and abroad. And I don’t know where I got that strength from, but I have this person so tough met that she let me. ” go. I started stepping backwards. “
‘Y’all, they’re in the building’
Evans served as the Capitol Police Officer for 16 years, working primarily in and around the Senate Chamber.
On January 6, he had taken a planned break when he first heard on police radio the danger the officers were suddenly exposed to when rioters broke the police line.
“You could only hear the tone of the officers’ voices coming over the radio,” Evans said, explaining that he had run back to the Senate and locked the capitol door at his post near the chamber.
He was soon approached by Eugene Goodman, the Capitol cop who, minutes later, heroically led the insurgents up a flight of stairs and away from the doors of the Senate Chamber.
“I went to my sergeant and told him we had to lock the chamber,” Evans explained. “And while I’m having this conversation with him, another officer, Eugene Goodman, comes along and he tells us, ‘All of you, they’re in the building.’ “
Evans helped evacuate the 100 senators and pence. Once the senators were safely locked up, Evans said, televisions were rolled into the room and everyone got a first look at what was going on.
“I just remember the anger I felt when I saw these pictures, smashing windows, climbing walls and so on. There was an audible gasp in the room when I saw these images, ”he said.
The images of insurgents in the Senate, where he had been just minutes earlier, were most harrowing.
“You just feel a personal connection to something you protect every day, and then you see the people on the floor just doing what they want, doing things that no one is allowed to do, so, so cavalier – you definitely got angry Done, “said Evans.” To see you up there like it was a fun house, I’ll always remember that. “
“I just started crying”
Gonell said he fought for about five hours before he could take a break and contact his family.
“I started texting my wife and just said, ‘I’m fine. I’ll see you whenever,'” he said, explaining that he had no idea when he would be home.
Gonell finally returned home at 3 a.m., but he couldn’t hug his wife yet. “When I walked in she wanted to hug me and I said no because I was covered in pepper spray and didn’t want to do that to her. I was injured. My hands were still bleeding.”
After showering – which Gonell said was painful because the chemical spray had penetrated his skin – he finally hugged his wife. He started crying, he said, out of relief, but also because he was fighting guilt he couldn’t do anymore.
“Everything that happened,” Gonell explained. “I didn’t think I could see her. I went to my son’s bed and hugged him. He was still sleeping. Gave him a kiss. And I just started crying, just cried for five, ten minutes. She kept telling me that it would be fine. I said, ‘No, I have to go back to work. I have to work again.’ I felt guilty. I still do. “
Evans said that in the weeks following the attack, Capitol police officers got closer as they sought some sort of return to normal in the Capitol. He said he had to stop watching videos showing what happened on January 6 because he would get too angry about it.
“That’s the feeling I’ll never shake,” he said.
Both Evans and Gonell say they are grappling with the aftermath of the riot, with some Republicans resisting a commission investigating what happened to them and downplaying the attack itself, even comparing the rioters to regular tourists.
“What kind of tour were you on that got beaten up? What kind of tour? I am still recovering from my hugs and kisses that day. My shoulder hurts, my mental, physical – it was exhausting, ”said Gonellell.
“I was hurt protecting her. And I would do it again if I have to. It’s my job,” he added. “It is inconceivable that they don’t even want to find out how this can be prevented in the future.”
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