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“That’s how I’m going to die.”
That’s what the US Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell thought on January 6, 2021, when an angry mob stormed the Capitol and pulled him by the leg.
“I could feel myself losing oxygen and remember thinking to myself, ‘this is how I should die, trampled to defend this entrance,'” he said in July last year before a committee in Parliament investigating the riot. , which disrupted a joint session of Congress. as it confirmed the results of the presidential election.
That January day, Gonell was tasked with guarding the western entrance to the Capitol, which he describes as a “medieval battlefield.”
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Nearly a year later, the emigrant from the Dominican Republic is still unable to raise his left arm due to injuries he sustained during the attack, and the psychological wounds have not healed for him or his family either.
“They see me cry. They cry with me. They see me in pain. And they cry too because they can do nothing for me but try to make me feel a little bit better,” Gonell told NPR this week. “This whole year has been awful.”
Gonell returned to work 10 months after the uprising – in an administrative position due to his injured shoulder. He is in therapy for his mental health, and as the 1st anniversary of the riot approaches, he says his thoughts are “anxiety”.
“Many of the officers have in mind the possibility that this is a recurring annual or every four years, which is why officers like me are candid about it because we do not want to go through it again,” Gonell said.
Nevertheless, he says he would if required of him.
“It’s inconceivable to hear some of the things that come from some of these elected representatives. But ultimately, our job is to make them safe and make their work environment safer, regardless of our opinion or political affiliation, and that’s a good idea. that we have nothing to do with it. ” said Gonell.
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While considering leaving the Capitol force, Gonell has decided instead to try to advance into the ranks of lieutenant. Still, he says it’s hard to show up for work every day. About a week ago, he was walking around when he was arrested by the sound of a construction crew dismantling metal scaffolding.
“Every time those metal rods hit the ground, it triggered me,” Gonell said. “It brought me back to January 6. That particular sound was something I heard as they broke the barriers to using as projectiles to hit us.”
He said it was also difficult to come across members of Congress who voted not to confirm President Biden’s election and who continue to hold on to the lie that former President Trump won.
“We risked our lives to give them enough time to get to safety. And reportedly some of them were in communication with some of the troublemakers and with some of the coordinators or knew what was going to happen,” Gonell said. “And it makes you question their motives and their loyalty to the country as we fought the mob in a brutal battle in which I too could have lost my life and my dear officers.”
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack recently requested information from two sitting lawmakers: Ohio Representative Jim Jordan and Pennsylvania Representative Scott Perry, both Republicans. Jordan, the top Republican on the House of Representatives panel and a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, has been asked to provide information about his communications with the former president on January 6, while Perry is being questioned about his role in trying to install a Trump-appointed as Attorney General in the days leading up to the riot. The idea was to replace the acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who stood by the election result, with Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the Civil Department of the Department of Justice, who was sympathetic to the erroneous idea that the election had been stolen.
“Every second time in our history, this would have required a moment of national unity. Instead, we become polarized, and some people think what happened was not so bad. [that] it was a trip, “said Gonell.” Well, they have to come and talk to me. I want to show them my injuries. I want to show them who I struggled with because these people were not pacifists. These people were determined to overthrow the government. “
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Prosecutors have filed charges against about 650 rioters for their role in the attack, resulting in dozens of allegations of misdemeanors and crimes. Gonell said the penalties for many are not enough.
“Their jail time is less than my recovery time,” Gonell said. “The charges they receive are not comparable to the mental and physical injuries suffered by some of the police officers, including myself.”
Gonell said it annoys him to hear people downplay the events of Jan. 6, an idea that has gradually gained traction with some Republicans. “They tell us, oh, it was not so bad. It was so bad when they ran for their lives. It was so bad when we fought to keep them [the rioters] of so they could have a chance to escape to safety, “he said.
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While former Vice President Mike Pence has called January 6 a tragic day and thanked law enforcement, including Capitol police, for curbing the violence, Gonell was offended by Pence’s recent comments to the media, which Gonell perceived as minimizing the day’s significance.
“I will not allow the Democrats or the national media to use a tragic day in January to downplay the intentions of the 74 million people who stood with us in our cause,” Pence told the Christian Broadcasting Network. “And I will not allow the Democrats to use a tragic day in January to divert attention from their failed agenda and the failed policies of the Biden administration. We will focus on the future. We will stand for the Constitution. And we will stand for those freedoms and obligations. to life, which has always made this country amazing. “
“This day in January almost cost my life,” Gonell said.
When rioters stormed the Capitol, they called for Pence to be hanged because he did not block the certification of the presidential election.
“And we did everything we could to prevent him [Pence] from being hanged and killed in front of his daughter and his wife. And now he tells us that one day in January does not matter. It’s pathetic. It’s a disgrace, “Gonell said.
“He swore an oath to the country, not to Donald Trump.”
Arrived on January 6, Gonell has not decided how he will celebrate the anniversary. He is on leave from work.
“I can fight if I need to, but I think I would be a responsibility in terms of not having my issued equipment to defend myself and my fellow officers,” he said.
Going forward, Gonell hopes the ongoing prosecutions will lead to harsh penalties. “What I do not want is for some of these people to think it’s okay, no matter what the politicians say,” he said.
“If these people do not get some form of deterrence, it will happen again and it is up to us.”
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