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CNN Live Event/Special
Investigating the Insurrection: Frontline Officers Give Firsthand Accounts of Capitol Riot. Aired 10:30-11a ET
Aired July 27, 2021 - 10:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
OFFICER DANIEL HODGES, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: Unfortunately, due to the course of events that day, we will never know exactly who many were carrying firearms and other lethal weapons.
I don't know what time it was, but, eventually, the foot traffic reversed with people leaving President's Park and traveling eastbound down Constitution Avenue towards the United States Capitol. At approximately 12:30 P.M., I noticed a commotion about half a block to my east and I saw the crowd starting to coalesce around two figures.
I ran to where they were and found a confrontation at the intersection of 10th and Constitution Avenue. One counterprotester, a black man, was backpedaling away from a white man under Trump-labeled face mask, was closely following him with a now stretched arm. Myself and my colleague first arrived and physically separated the two but a crowd of Donald Trump's people had gathered. They attempted to bait the counterprotester into attacking and shouting insults, such as your mother is a whore and accusing of hiding behind the cops.
Eventually, enough MPD members had gathered to move along the crowd and continued eastbound toward the Capitol building and the counterprotester departed northbound on 10th Street. Returning to my post, I continued to monitor the radio. I could hear Commander Glover leading the defense efforts at the Capitol as the protesters began their transition from peaceful assembly in terrorism.
I became agitated and wished we could move in to support as I could hear the increasing desperation of the commander's voice, yet we still have to wait for our orders to change and eventually they did. At approximately 1:30 P.M., the commander authorized rapid response platoons to deploy their hard gear and respond to the Capitol including CD42.
The last thing I remember hearing over the air before departing for the Capitol grounds was confirmation that our explosive ordinance disposal team had discovered a device. Given what we knew was being associated with the device, I immediately realized MPD had discovered a bomb of some type near the Capitol. This thought was never far from my mind for the rest day.
We ran back to our vans and got on our hard gear as quickly as we could, navigating routes to avoid the foot traffic, we drove as close as we could to the Capitol, disembarking at the northwest side of the Capitol grounds. We gave our gear a final check and marched towards the west terrace.
The crowd was thinner the further out from the Capitol you were. So as we marched the resistance we initially met was verbal. A man sarcastically yelled, here comes the boys in blue, so brave. Another called on us to remember your oath. There was plenty of booing. A woman called us storm troopers. Another woman who was part of the mob of terrorists laying siege to the Capitol of the United States shouted, traitors. We're found appealing in this label and shouted traitors at us as we passed. One man attempted to turn into a chant and we continued to march.
We had been marching in two columns, but as we got closer to the west terrace, the crowd became so dense, that in order to progress, we marched single file with our hands on the shoulders of the man in front of us in order to avoid separation.
However, as we came close to the terrace, our line was divided and we came under attack. A man attempted to rip the baton from my hands and we wrestled for control. I retained my weapon after I pushed him back. He yelled at me, you're on the wrong team.
Cut off from our leadership, which is at the front of the formation, we huddled up with threats surrounding us. One man tried and failed to build a rapport with me, shouting, are you my brother? Another takes a different tack, shouting, you will die on your knees.
I was at the front of our group and determined we have to push our way through the crowd in order to join the defense proper. So I began shouting, make way, as I forged ahead hoping that I'm clearing a path for others behind me to follow.
However, as I looked back, I saw the rest of the group came under attack and were unable to follow. The crowd attempted to physically bar the rest of the platoon from following. I backtracked and started pulling the terrorists off my team from backpacks and their collars.
Around this time, one of the terrorists who scaled the scaffolding that adorned Capitol at the time threw something heavy down at me and struck me in the head, disorienting me. I suspect this resulted in the likely concussion I dealt with in the weeks after.
Another man attempted to disarm me of my baton and, again, we wrestled for control. He kicked many me my chest as we went to the ground. I was able to retain my baton again but I ended on my hands and knees and blind. The medical mask I was wearing to protect myself from the coronavirus was pulled up over my eyes so I couldn't see. I braced myself against the impact of the blows and feared the worst.
Thankfully, my platoon had repelled their own attackers and got me back on my feet.
The crowd started chanting USA at us and we struck out again for the west terrace.
I led the charge through the midst of crowd control munitions, explosions and smoke engulfing the area, terrorists were breaking apart the metal fencing and bike racks into individual pieces presumably to use as weapons.
Thankfully, we made it to the secondary defense line on the west terrace that MPD and Capitol Police were managing to hold. The rest of my platoon got behind the line and we could take stock of the situation. I realized that back during the previous assault, someone had stolen my radio.
From that point on, I was in the dark as to our current status, when reinforcements would arrive, terrorists were scaling the scaffolding on both of our sides, the tower in front of us and attempting to breach the waste-high metal fencing that the only barrier we had aside from ourselves.
The sea of people was punctuated throughout by flags, mostly variations of American flags and Trump flags. There was Gadsden flags. It was clear the terrorists perceived themselves to be Christians. I saw the Christian flag directly to my front. Another had Jesus is my savior, Trump is my president, another, Jesus is king. One flag read, don't give up the ship. Another had crossed rifles beneath a skull, emblazoned with the pattern of the American flag.
To my perpetual confusion, I saw the thin blue line flag, the symbol of support for law enforcement more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us. The accurate sting of C.S. gas or tear gas and those O.C. spray, which is mace, hung in the air as the terrorists threw their own C.S. gas canisters back at us and sprayed with their own O.C., either they bought themselves or stole from us. Later, I learned at least one of them was spraying us in the face with wasp spray.
The terrorists alternated between attempting to break our defenses and shouting out or attempting to convert us. Men alleging to be veterans told us how they had fought for this country and were fighting for it again. One man tried to start a chant of four more years. Another shouted, do not attack us. We're not Black Lives Matter, as if political affiliation is how to determine when to use force. A man in a QAnon hoodie exclaims, this is the time to choose which side of history to be on. A man whose shirt read, God, guns an Trump stood behind him silently holding a Trump flag.
A new man came to the front and fixated on me, continually berating me, telling me to take off my gear and give it to him to show solidarity with we the people or we are going to run over you. His voice cracked (ph) with a strain and the volume of his threats. He continued, do you think your little pea shooter guns are going to stop this crowd? No. We're going in that building.
Eventually, there is a surge in the crowd. The defense buckled and broke apart and we were unable to hold the line. A chaotic melee ensued. Terrorists pushed through the line and engaged us in hand-to- hand combat. Several attempted to knock me over and steal my baton. One latched on to my face and got his thumb in my right eye attempting to gouge it out. I cried out in pain and managed to shake him off, managed to shake him off before any permanent damage was done.
I couldn't fully engage anyone, for the moment I do is when another 20 terrorists move in to attack while my hands are full. It was all we could do to keep ourselves on our feet and continue to fall back. I'm sprayed with a fire extinguisher and red smoke, a red smoke grenade burns at our feet.
In the fight, a terrorist is knocked to the ground and his jacket rides up exposing a large hunting knife on his belt. I along with several other officers piled on him while another removed the knife from this person. He regained himself unharmed and shouts indignantly, what are you doing? What are you guys doing?
At this point, the terrorists had claimed most of the western terrace cornering myself and other officers on the southern edge. We found a side stair off of the terrace up to an upper landing followed by more stairs up and inside.
Inside of the Capitol building, officers walked through the halls briefly until they found a place to sit to decontaminate their face of O.C. and C.S. and take a quick breather. I followed suit. Someone had managed to find a package of water bottles and was passing them out. I washed off my face as best I could, rinsed out my mouth and drank the rest. I took the opportunity of relative safety to don my gas mask.
Not long afterward, I heard someone calling for officers to move to assist. I sealed myself for another round and ascended a stairway into a long hallway filled with smoke and screams.
The Capitol building is labyrinth-themed (ph) but judging from the intense combat, I could tell this hallway led outside to where the terrorists had forced our retreat.
Officers were stacked deep, but every so often one would fall back from the frontline nursing or an injury or struggling to breathe and those who remained would take a step forward.
It was a battle of inches with one side pushing the other a few and then other side regaining ground. At the time, I and I suspect others in the hallway did not though that the terrorists had gained entry in the building by breaking doors and windows elsewhere, so we believed ours to be the last line of defense before the terrorists had true access to the building and to potentially our elected representatives.
Eventually, it was my turn in the meat grinder that was the frontline. The terrorists had a wall of shields that they had stolen from officers as well as stolen batons, whatever armaments they brought. Even during this intense contest of wills, they had tried to convert us to their cult.
One man shouted, we all just want to make our voices heard and I think you feel the same. I really think you feel the same. All while another man attempts to batter us with a stolen shield.
Another, like many others, didn't seem to appreciate that this wasn't a game. He fought his way across the long, up the steps through the western terrace, all the O.C. and C.S. gas and at the frontline of this final threshold was asking us to hold on because he has asthma.
The two sides were at a stalemate at a metal door frame that sat in the middle of hallway. At the frontline, I inserted myself so the frame was at my back and then I gave myself something to brace against and provide additional strength when pushing forward. Unfortunately, soon after I secured this position, the momentum shifted and we lost the ground that got me there.
On my left was a man with a clear ride shield stolen during the assault. He slammed it against me and with all of the weight of the bodies pushing behind him trapped me. My arms were pinned and effectively useless, trapped against either the shield on my left or the door frame on my right with my posture granting me no functional strength or freedom of movement, I was effectively defenseless and gradually sustaining injury from the increasing pressure of the mob.
Directly in front of me, a man seized the opportunity of my vulnerability to grab the front of my gas mask and used it beat my head against the door. He switched to pulling it off my head, the straps stretching against my skull and straining my neck. He never uttered any words I recognized but opted instead for guttural screams. I remember him foaming at the mouth.
He also put his cell phone in the mouth so he had both hands free to assault me. Eventually, he succeeded in stripping away my gas mask and a new rush of exposure to C.S. and O.C. spray hit me. The mob of terrorist were coordinating their efforts, shouting heave hoe, as they synchronized pushing their weight forward crushing me further against the metal door frame.
The man in front of me grabbed my baton that I still held in my hands. And in my current state, I was unable to retain my weapon. He bashed my head and face with it rupturing my lip and adding additional injury to my skull.
At this point, I knew I couldn't sustain much more damage and remained upright. At best, I would collapse and be a liability to my colleagues, at worst, be dragged out into the crowd and lynched. Unable to move or otherwise signal the officers behind me that I needed to fall back, I did the only thing that I could do and screamed for help.
Thankfully, my voice was heard over the cacophony of yells and the blaring alarm. The officer closest to me was able to extricate me from my position and another helped me fall back to the building again. I had found some more water and decontaminated my face as best I could. I don't know how long I waited in the halls for, but as soon as I went back on my feet and went to the fight was against until reinforcements arrived, every able body made a difference.
Without my gas mask, I was afraid I would be a liability in the hallway, so I took the exit outside of the upper landing above the west terrace. I found a police line being held and terrace encircling, much like on the west terrace lower.
It was getting later in the day, however, and it appeared we weren't the only ones getting tired. It seemed the most of the mob was content to yell rather than try to break our line again.
After some time of guarding the upper landing, I saw reinforcement arrive from the south. I'm not sure which law enforcement agency it was but I turned to them and I started clapping as it was a sign of badly needed help was finally started to arrive.
Soon after that, I started feeling the effects of the day taking their toll and went back inside to rest. Gradually, all of the members of CD42 gathered if the room known as the Capitol crypt. We checked on each other and convalesced, glad to see each other in peace.
Despite our exhaustion, we would have run out and fight again should the need ever arisen. Thankfully, as the day went on, more and more resources had arrived at the Capitol to drive off the terrorists.
We stayed in the crypt until quite late. And even after we were allowed to leave the grounds, we didn't get to go home. Those who needed immediate attention took a van to the local hospital while the rest of us parked near the city center until the city was deemed secure enough for us to check off. I believe we finally got that message around 1:00 A.M. the following morning. We drove back to the Fourth District and from there went home.
Thank you for letting me testify.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Thank you very much for your testimony.
I now recognize Officer Dunn to summarize his testimony.
OFFICER HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE: Chairman Thompson, members of the select committee, thank you for the opportunity today to give my account regarding the events of January 6, 2021.
From my firsthand experience as a Capitol Police officer directly involved in the events, I'm still hurting from what happened that day. I'm providing this testimony solely on my personal capacity and not as a representative of the United States Capitol Police.
Before I begin -- before I begin, I would like to take a moment of my time to ask for a moment of silence for my fallen colleague, Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries he sustained in the line of duty defending the Capitol of our beloved democracy. Thank you.
I reported for duty at the Capitol as usual early on the morning of January 6. We understood that the vote to certify President Biden's election will be taking place that day and protests might occur outside of the Capitol, but we expect that any demonstrations to be peaceful expressions of First Amendment freedoms, just like the scores of demonstrations we had observed for many years.
After roll call, I took my over watch post on the east front of the Capitol standing on steps that led up to the Senate chamber. As the morning progressed, I did not see or hear anything that gave me cause for alarm. But around 10:56 A.M., I received a text message from a friend forwarding a screenshot of what appeared to be the potential plan of action, very different from a peaceful demonstration. The screenshot bore the caption, January 6, rally point, Lincoln Park, and said the objective was the Capitol.
It said amongst other things that Trump has given us marching orders and to keep your guns hidden. It urged people to bring your trauma kits and gas masks to link up early in the day in 6 to 12-man teams. It indicated there would be time to arm up.
Seeing that message caused me concern. To be sure looking back now, it seemed to foreshadow what happened later. At the time, though, we have not received any threat warnings from our chain of command. I had no independent reason to believe that violence was headed our way.
As the morning progressed and the crowd of protesters began to swell on the east side of the Capitol, many displaying Trump flags, the crowd was chanting slogans, like stop the steal, and we want Trump. But demonstration was still being conducted in a peaceful manner.
Earlier that afternoon, Capitol Police dispatch advised all units over the radio that we have an active 10-100 at the Republican National Committee nearby. 10-100 is police code for suspicious package, such as a potential bomb. That radio dispatch got my attention and I started to get more nervous and worried, especially because of the crowds on east front of the Capitol were continuing to grow.
Around the same time, I started receiving reports on the radio about large crowd movements around the Capitol coming from the direction of the Ellipse to both the west and east fronts of the Capitol. Then I heard urgent radio calls for additional officers to respond to the west side and an exclamation, a desperate voice that demonstrators on the west side had breached the fence.
Now, it was obvious that there was a direct threat to the Capitol. I quickly put on a steel chest plate, which weighs approximately 20 pounds, and carrying my M-4 rifle sprinted around the north side of the Capitol to the west terrace and the railing of the inaugural stage, where I had a broad view of what was going on. I was stunned by what I saw.
And what seemed like a sea of people, Capitol Police officers and Metropolitan Police officers, MPD, were engaged in desperate hand-to- hand fighting with rioters across the west lawn. Until then, I had never seen anyone physically assault Capitol Police or MPD, let alone witness mass assaults being perpetrated on law enforcement officers.
I witnessed the rioters using all kinds of weapons against officers, including flagpoles, metal bike racks that they had torn apart and various kinds of projectiles. Officers were being bloodied in the fighting. Many were screaming and many were blinded and coughing from chemical irritants being sprayed in their faces.
I gave decontamination aid to as many officers as I could, flushing their eyes with water to dilute chemical irritants. Soon thereafter, I heard, attention all units, the Capitol has been breached and that rioters were in various places inside the building. At that point, I rushed into the Capitol with another officer going first to the basement on the Senate side where I had heard an MPD officer needed a defibrillator.
After returning outside to the west terrace to assist the officers, I went back into the Capitol and up the stairs towards the crypt. There I saw rioters who had invaded the Capitol carrying a confederate flag, a red MAGA flag and a Don't Tread on Me flag. I decided to stand my ground there to prevent any rioters from heading down the stairs to the lower west terrace entrance because that's where officers were getting decontamination aid and were particularly vulnerable.
At the top of the stairs, I confronted a group of insurrectionists, warning them, do not to go down the steps. One of them shouted, keep moving patriots. Another displayed what looked like a law enforcement badge and told me we're doing this for you. One of the invaders approached me like he was going to try to get past me and head down the stairs. I hit him, knocking him down.
After getting relieved by other officers in the crypt, I took off running upstairs towards the speaker's lobby and helped the plain clothed officer who was getting hassled by insurrectionists. Some of them were dressed like members of a militia group, wearing tactical vests, cargo pants and body armor. I was physically exhausted and it was hard to breathe and to see because of all the chemical spray in the air.
More and more insurrectionists were pouring into the area by the speaker's lobby near the rotunda and some wearing MAGA hats and shirts that said, Trump 2020. I told them to just leave the Capitol. And in response, they yelled, no, man, this is our house. President Trump invited us here. We're here to stop the steal. Joe Biden is not the president. Nobody voted for Joe Biden.
I'm a law enforcement officer. And I do my best to keep politics out of my job, but in this circumstance, I responded. Well, I voted for Joe Biden. Does my vote not count, am I nobody? That prompted a torrent of racial epithets, one woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled, you hear that, guys? This nigger voted for Joe Biden. Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming, boo, fucking nigger.
No one had ever, ever called me a nigger while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer. In the days following the attempted insurrection, other black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6th. One officer told me he had never in his entire 40 years life being called a nigger to his face and that streak ended on January 6.
[10:55:10] Yet another black officer later told me, he had been confronted by insurrectionists in the Capitol who told him, put your gun down and we'll show you what kind of nigger you really are.
To be candid, the rest of the afternoon is a blur but I know I went throughout the Capitol to assist officers who needed aid and helped expel for insurrectionist. In the crypt, I encountered Sergeant Gonell who was giving assistance to an unconscious woman who had been in the crowd of rioters on the west side of the Capitol. I helped to carry her to the area of the House majority leader's officer where she was administered CPR.
As the afternoon wore on, I was completely drained both physically and emotionally and in shock in total disbelief over what had happened.
Once the building was cleared, I went to the rotunda to recover with other officers and share experiences with what happened that afternoon. Representative Rodney Davis was there offering support to officers and when he and I saw each other, he came over and he gave me a big hug.
I sat down on a bench in the rotunda with a friend of mine who was also a black Capitol Police officer and told him about the racial slurs I endured. I became very emotional and began yelling, how the blank could something like this happen? Is this America? I began sobbing. officers came over to console me.
Later on January 6th, after ordering security had been restored on the Capitol, through the hard work and sacrifices of law enforcement, members took the floor of the House to speak out about what had happened that day. Among them was House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who, along with my fellow officers, I had protected that day and will protect today and tomorrow. I had protected that day and will protect today and tomorrow.
And the minority leader, to his great credit, said the following to the House, the violence, destruction and chaos we saw earlier was unacceptable, undemocratic, and un-American. It was the saddest day I have ever had serving in this institution, end quote.
Members of the select committee, the minority leader was absolutely right. How he described what took place in the Capitol and for those of us in the Capitol Police who serve and revere this institution and who love the Capitol building, it was the saddest day for us as well.
More than six months later, January 6th still isn't over for me. I've had to avail myself of multiple counseling sessions from the Capitol Police Employee Assistance Program and I'm now receiving private counseling therapy for the persistent, emotional trauma of that day.
I've also participated in many peer support programs with fellow law enforcement officers from across -- around the United States. I know so many other officers continue to hurt both physically and emotionally. I want to take this moment to speak to my fellow officers about the emotions they are continuing to experience from the events of January 6. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional counseling. What we went through that day was traumatic and if you are hurting, please take advantage of the counseling services that are available to us.
I also respectfully ask that this select committee reviewed available services available to us and consider whether they are sufficient enough to meet our needs, especially with respect to the amount of leave that we are allowed.
In closing, we can never again allow democracy to be put in peril, as it was on January 6th. I thank the members of select committee for your commitment to determine what led to this disaster at the Capitol on January 6th, what actually took place that day and what steps should be taken to prevent such an attack on our democracy from ever happening again.
Also, I want to thank and acknowledge my brothers and sisters in blue who fought alongside me on January 6th to protect our democracy.