‘This is how I’m going to die’: Capitol Police sergeant Aquilino Gonell tearfully describes the ‘constant trauma’ of January 6

Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell
US Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell wipes his eye as he watches a video being displayed during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 attack on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 27, 2021. Jim Bourg/Pool via AP
  • US Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell gave vivid and emotional testimony on the January 6 riot.
  • Gonell recalled “verbal assaults and disrespect” from the rioters and the “horrific and devastating” violence.
  • “What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle,” he recounted.
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US Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell recounted the violence of the January 6 insurrection in an emotional testimony before the first hearing of the House select committee on Tuesday, saying he could have died “many times” that day.

Sgt. Gonell, US Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn, and Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone were the witnesses testifying at the hearing. All were on the front lines of defending the Capitol from the violence of the riot.

“For most people, January 6 happened for a few hours. But for those of us who were in the thick of it, it has not ended,” Gonell said.

Gonell, giving his opening remarks through tears at several points, captivated the room with vivid testimony about the carnage.

“To be honest, I did not recognize my fellow citizens that day, or the United States they claimed to represent,” Gonell said, adding that “on January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than my entire deployment in Iraq.”

He recalled the “verbal assaults and disrespect” from the rioters and the “horrific and devastating” violence they exacted, describing being kicked, shoved, and assaulted with knives, batons, shields, and chemical irritants.

“What we were subjected to that day was like something from a medieval battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch, to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob intent on subverting our democratic process,” Gonell said.

Gonell recalled “being pulled” by rioters and being hit with his own baton.

“I vividly heard officers screaming in agony, in pain, just an arm’s length from me. I didn’t know at that time that was Officer Hodges, and he’s here today to testify,” he said.

“I too was being crushed by the rioters,” Gonell said. “I could feel myself losing oxygen and recall thinking to myself, ‘This is how I’m going to die,’ defending this entrance.”

“It was not until 4:26 p.m., after giving CPR to one of the rioters who breached the Capitol in an effort to save her life, that I finally had a chance to let my own family know that I was alive,” Gonell said.

Gonell said that while he returned to work the day after the insurrection, he’s been out on medical and administrative for much of the time since, and has undergone multiple surgeries caused by the riot.

“I continued to work for 15 consecutive days until after the inauguration. I made sure to work despite my injuries because I wanted to continue doing my job and help secure the Capitol complex,” Gonell said. “More than six months later, I’m still trying to recover from my injuries. I sustained injuries on both my hands, my left shoulder, my left calf and my right foot. I already undergone fusion surgery on my right foot and I was just told that I need surgery on my left shoulder.”

Gonell said that when he was finally able to arrive home, he “had to push my wife away from me because she wanted to hug me. And I told her ‘no,’ because of all the chemicals my uniform had on. I couldn’t sleep because the chemicals reactivated after I took a shower and my skin was burning.”

At the end of his opening statement, Gonell also called out those people who have criticized athletes who have knelt during the national anthem at sports games but have downplayed the violence of the January 6 insurrection.

He also noted that law enforcement received ample resources during the protests of summer 2020, but not the Capitol siege.

“We are not asking for medals or recognition. We simply want justice and accountability,” he said.