Police officer: I was ‘more afraid’ during January riots than during my Iraq deployment

A US police officer says he was more afraid while defending the country’s Capitol building against rioters than he was during his deployment to Iraq.

Sergeant Aquilino Gonell was one of four police officers testifying before the House select committee in Washington DC about events on 6 January.

Sgt Gonell, a 15-year police veteran, said the scene had been like “something from a medieval battlefield”.

He said: “On 6 January, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than during my entire army deployment to Iraq.”

Sgt Gonell spent 545 days in Iraq as a 25-year-old, earning a number of awards and surviving numerous attacks.

He told the representatives: “In Iraq we expected armed violence, because we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the army or as a law enforcement officer prepared me for what we confronted on 6 January.”

He said he did not recognise his fellow citizens as they stormed the Capitol or the country they claimed to represent, telling how he and his colleagues were punched, pushed, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemicals and even blinded with eye-damaging lasers.

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He suffered injuries to hands, left shoulder, left calf and right foot. The foot injury has required surgery and he will need further surgery on his shoulder, and has been on medical and administrative leave for six months.

“For most people, 6 January happened for a few hours that day, 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 literally every day, whether because of our physical or emotional injuries, or both.”

Sgt Gonell’s colleague, Metropolitan Police Daniel Hodges said he was attacked that day, with some of the mob telling him: “You will die on your knees.”

Officer Hodges said that someone had pushed a thumb into his eye, “attempting to gauge it out” and that another rioter “foaming at the mouth” had grabbed his gas mask and beat his head against the door with it.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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