Capitol Police officers who put their lives at risk say everyone has a job in protecting democracy

Police officers were on the frontlines defending the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. For many of them, and even the Capitol Police force as a whole, the year since has been difficult. Officers like Harry Dunn are still recovering from the emotional scars sustained that day. Others, like Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, are still recovering from the physical toll. Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    As we know, police officers were on the front lines defending the United States Capitol on January 6.

    For many of them, and even for the Capitol Police force as a whole, the year since has been difficult.

    Lisa Desjardins begins there.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One year later, some officers, like U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, are still recovering from the emotional scars of that day. Others, like Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, are still recovering from the physical toll.

    Gonell recently tweeted out graphic photos showing the gashes, bruises from crushing, and other injuries to his shoulder, to his hands, and to his foot.

    Dunn and Gonell co-wrote an op-ed today for The Washington Post, demanding accountability for the Capitol riot.

    Officer Harry Dunn and Sergeant Aquilino Gonell join me now.

    Thank you both so much for protecting the Capitol, me personally, and thank you for joining us now.

    And I want to start first off with that op-ed. You had strong words in that. One sentence you wrote was this.

  • You wrote:

    "It will not be enough to identify and punish only those who physically attacked the Capitol and tried to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power."

    Those are strong words.

    Sergeant Gonell, who do you mean there, and what do you want to happen in terms of that accountability?

  • Aquilino Gonell, United States Capitol Police Sergeant:

    Well, it's a lot of people who were involved with what transpired January 6, including some of the elected officials that, even after we put our bodies at risk of injuries and even death, like Officer Sicknick, they continue to downplay this tragic, horrific event of January 6.

    And it's mind-boggling that — what they do, trying to downplay everything.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It sounds like you're talking about — you're talking about politicians, is that right, being held more accountable?

  • Aquilino Gonell:

    Yes, elected officials that, on January 6 and on January 7, they all knew where to put the blame and point the finger at.

    They all knew that the president, for almost three hours, did not do his job. And it pains me that, 16 blocks away, he was watching it on TV, despite the horrific images that were coming live on TV.

    I didn't see it on TV, but I'm sure, by then, everybody around the country were watching with all eyes, as I was battling those people in the Lower West Terrace, or, as people know it now, the tunnel.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're talking about the former president.

    And former President Trump put out a statement just in the last few weeks calling what happened on January 6 an unarmed protest.

    Also, at one point, Officer Dunn, FOX News host Tucker Carlson called you a — quote — "angry left-wing activist."

    This is the battle now, a battle of words over what happened on January 6.

    And, Officer Dunn, I want to ask you, how do you respond to people who say that your accounts and the way people look at it are exaggerated and perhaps it wasn't that bad?

  • Harry Dunn, U.S. Capitol Police Officer:

    Well, thanks for having me on. Happy new year to you.

    Angry left-wing activist, I — when I heard that, I had to stop and think about it for a little bit. It's fair to say I am angry. I'm a registered Democrat, so I guess I'm a left-wing — and if activist means somebody who's standing for what's right and fighting for what they believe in, then, sure, I will be that.

    But, outside of that, I don't have any response to him or anybody over at that network, because it just seems like they like to talk about people and not to people.

    So, if they're interested in having an actual conversation about the facts about what happened that day, I would be happy to talk to them. But until then, I'm just going to keep on talking to people that matter and fighting for accountability and justice for what happened that day.

  • Aquilino Gonell:

    If I may, you're talking about people who never raised a hand who say — they like don't solemnly swear to protect and defend this country and the Constitution.

    They have never done that. So they are talking from their office in comfort, despite others doing the hard work and protecting and serving, something that they never thought about doing themselves, both as a police officer or as a military person.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You wrote in your op-ed that you feel there's an effort to whitewash what happened on January 6.

    What do you mean by that, Officer Dunn?

  • Harry Dunn:

    You know, just a simple downplaying.

    Just like, recently, I wasn't aware that — what the former president's statement was that you just quoted. I wasn't aware of that statement. But I guess that's the perfect definition to — the answer to your question about what — they're trying to whitewash it, and an unarmed demonstration.

    I would like to refer to it as a terrorist attack. I went through it. And a lot of my co-workers physically hurt still to this day, one year later. And there's so much that we do not know about what happened that day. And we're starting to find out more and more about what happened that day.

    So, I think we just need to continue to sit back and let all the facts come out. And it will no longer be people's opinions that are valid once all the facts are out on the table, so…

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I'm interested in talking to both of you, first to you, Sergeant Gonell, about why you think January 6 happened.

    You saw the faces of your fellow Americans attacking you. Why do you think — what was driving them? What's going on here, Sergeant?

  • Aquilino Gonell:

    During the last almost five years, you have an individual telling other people the system is rigged if I lose, but, if I win, it's OK, everything is OK.

    And people are susceptible to lies. And the way that he was amplifying it made it even worse. Coupling that with the type of charges that some of these insurrectionists are getting. People can see that as a way to explain it to themselves and say, you know what, it wasn't that bad. It wasn't as horrific as they're saying.

    But it was horrific. If you were in that entrance of the Lower West Terrace, it was do or die. It was — these people were trying to hurt officer in fully clothed police uniform..

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Officer Dunn, do you think the danger is still here?

    Where are we right now in terms of the threat to democracy, from your view?

  • Harry Dunn:

    You know, it's scary to think about where we are.

    Like, sure, we succeeded as far as our mission that day. Democracy went on late into night, January 6, into January 7. Democracy prevailed. But I think it's very important for everybody now to think, realize how close and fragile democracy is, and that everybody, everybody, even anybody watching, anybody listening, has a job to do in protecting and defending democracy.

    That could be us police officers, we police, the legislators, the lawmakers. They need to do their job and legislate. The judges judge. And the American people need to vote about who to put into those positions to — we need to — we need accountability. And we need to make sure the right people are in office that want accountability also.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    How's the police force doing? How is the U.S. Capitol Police force doing?

    I know there have been improvements. They announced today more equipment. But we also know that some 200 officers have left since January 6. Recruiting is tough.

    Officer Dunn, how's the police force?

  • Harry Dunn:

    You know, I like — I don't really want to speak for everybody else, so I will just speak on things that I know.

    We're still hurting. A lot of people are struggling with what happened. I'm still upset, but I'm recovering. I'm starting to heal. But I don't think total healing can happen until accountability has been had.


  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Sergeant Gonell, how are you doing?

  • Aquilino Gonell:

    I'm OK.

    I mean, there are days things comes in waves, hit you left and right. At times, I'm OK for a minute, and then something at work or a sound or a smell will trigger some of the things that happened back at work on that day.

    And going back to the question that you posed to Harry, the former president still wields a lot of influence over these people. And I'm worried that, in the future, he could just tweet something, make a statement, and the same people who were on January 6, 2021, they could end up back at the Capitol.

    Yes, we have made a lot of improvement. Yes, we have a lot of training, but the forces that culminated on January 6, they're still in place. And that's why we need accountability. That's why we want to hold those responsible.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I know you both were faced — facing the thick of the fighting.

    And we talk a lot about the difficulties of that day, but I also know you found bright spots in the hundreds of letters and tweets of support.

    And I just have to thank you all for speaking to us tonight, Officers Harry Dunn and Sergeant Aquilino Gonell.

    Thank you.

  • Aquilino Gonell:

    Thank you for having me, and happy new year.

  • Harry Dunn:

    Thanks for having us.

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