One officer lost the tip of his right index finger. Others were smashed in the head with baseball bats, flagpoles and pipes. Another lost consciousness after rioters used a metal barrier to push her into stairs as they tried to reach the Capitol steps during the assault on Jan. 6.
“We don’t have to hurt you — why are you standing in our way?” one rioter told the officer as he helped her to her feet, according to court documents. She tried to regroup, but blacked out while making an arrest hours later. Doctors determined she had a concussion.
A little more than a month after the Capitol siege, a fuller picture of the injuries suffered by the police has emerged from court documents, footage revealed at former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, accounts provided by officers and interviews with law enforcement officials and experts.
The Capitol assault resulted in one of the worst days of injuries for law enforcement in the United States since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. At least 138 officers — 73 from the Capitol Police and 65 from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington — were injured, the departments have said. They ranged from bruises and lacerations to more serious damage such as concussions, rib fractures, burns and even a mild heart attack.
One Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, was killed, and investigators are increasingly focused on whether chemical irritants were a factor in his death, according to a senior law enforcement official. The Capitol Police said in a statement that Sicknick died from injuries suffered “while physically engaging with protesters.” Two officers involved in the response have died by suicide, the local police have said.
The number of those injured does not account for the dozens, if not hundreds, of officers whom law enforcement officials estimate will suffer in years to come with post-traumatic stress disorder and the dozens who most likely contracted the coronavirus from unmasked Trump supporters who overran the Capitol, the experts and officials said.
At least 38 Capitol Police officers have tested positive for the coronavirus or were exposed to it, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a House impeachment manager, said on Thursday. Nearly 200 National Guard personnel who were deployed to protect the Capitol in the weeks after the siege also tested positive, he said.
“If you’re a cop and get into a fight, it may last five minutes, but these guys were in battle for four to five hours,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit that advises departments across the country on management and tactics.
“You would be hard-pressed to find another day in history like this,” he said, “when the police encountered this level of violence in one event.”
The horror of the siege — which officers have described as “medieval” because of brute hand-to-hand combat and the use of blunt objects as weapons — received renewed attention this week at Trump’s impeachment trial. House managers repeatedly raised the injuries as they revealed new video and audio to argue that Trump incited his supporters to overrun the Capitol while lawmakers were certifying his election loss.
At the trial on Thursday, Cicilline listed a litany of injuries that laid out the effects of the siege on officers: concussions, irritated lungs, and injuries caused by repeated blows from bats, poles and clubs.
“Capitol Police officers also sustained injuries that will be with them for the rest of their lives,” he said.
Washington police officers who had served in Iraq said that the Capitol riot “was scarier to them than their time in combat,” Cicilline said, quoting Chief Robert Contee of the Metropolitan Police.
Cicilline then played clips of rioters shouting to officers in the Capitol: “Fight for Trump! Fight for Trump! Traitor, traitors, traitors!”
Neither department has provided details on the types of injuries or the number of officers who may have contracted the coronavirus. But a small portion of the injuries are severe and will require months of recovery, said Patrick Burke, the executive director of the Washington, D.C., Police Foundation.
“A majority are bruises and sprains, but one officer had a mild heart attack after he was hit with a stun gun several times and had to be pulled out of the crowd,” Burke said. “Others had laser pointers to the eyes, which can cause long-term damage.”
Estimates vary on the number of rioters who surrounded or entered the Capitol on Jan. 6, but a review of footage shows that at least thousands swarmed the building. In addition to the blunt objects, some were armed with stun guns, bear spray and plastic handcuffs.
At one point, one rioter took a fire extinguisher and slammed it on the floor. A loud explosive boom rang out, and white powder from the extinguisher filled the air.
“Both the rioters and the officers were momentarily shocked, and everyone took a step back,” according to court documents. Rioters briefly calmed down and left the area, court papers said, though some made their way moments later to the Senate floor, where lawmakers had recently fled.
According to the Justice Department, 219 rioters have been charged, and dozens more are expected to be indicted in the coming weeks.
Officers’ advocates blamed not only the rioters but also accused police commanders of failing to properly train and equip their forces for such an attack, while acknowledging that the siege was highly unusual.
About 170 of the roughly 1,200 Capitol Police officers on duty at the time of the attack were equipped with riot gear. Few other officers had gas masks or other protective equipment.
Some without helmets suffered brain injuries, one officer had two cracked ribs, two shattered spinal discs, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake, said Gus Papathanasiou, the chairman of the Capitol Police Union.
Out of the roughly 2,000 officers altogether on the Capitol Police force, fewer than 200 had received recent training in dealing with protests, Papathanasiou said.
“We had officers responding that day who had not trained in riot control in over 15 years,” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police did not immediately return an email seeking comment. Its leaders have acknowledged mistakes by commanders, including in their preparation.
In a video released last week to mark one month since the attacks, Yogananda Pittman, the acting Capitol Police chief, said her top priority was taking care of officers.
“Our healing has barely begun,” she said.
“The damage extends beyond their physical injuries,” she added, promising counseling to officers who needed it. “What happened was traumatic.”
But in a sign of the continued reverberations from the siege, the leadership of the Capitol Police Union called on Thursday for its officers to approve a vote of no confidence against their department’s leadership.
Despite the wealth of video from the riot, building a criminal case in the death of Sicknick has proved difficult, according to the senior law enforcement official.
Though law enforcement officials initially said Sicknick was struck with a fire extinguisher, police sources and investigators are at odds over whether he was hit. Medical experts have said he did not die of blunt force trauma, according to one law enforcement official.
Investigators have found little evidence to back up the attack with the fire extinguisher as the cause of death, the official said. Instead, they increasingly suspect that a factor was Sicknick being sprayed in the face by some sort of irritant, like mace or bear spray, the law enforcement official said.
Though the police consider irritants to be nonlethal deterrents for crowd control, they can cause physical reactions and disorientation that can lead to injury.
The development, reported earlier by CNN, has complicated efforts to arrest suspects in Sicknick’s death, as both the police and rioters used spray in the siege. It is difficult to prove who sprayed irritant on Sicknick.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday introduced legislation to recognize the Capitol Police and other agencies that provided security on Jan. 6 with Congressional Gold Medals, the highest honor of Congress, she said in a letter.