By Zachary Cohen, CNN
Four police officers who defended the US Capitol on January 6 made clear Tuesday they are still dealing with physical and mental trauma from the attack, at times becoming visibly emotional while describing those lingering wounds during a hearing before the House select committee investigating the events of that day.
The four officers testifying — DC Metropolitan Police Officers Daniel Hodges and Michael Fanone, plus Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and Sgt. Aquilino Gonell — have shared their stories publicly before, which include accounts of being beaten with a flagpole, being the target of racist slurs, being crushed in a door and being tased by the rioters.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the witnesses again detailed their experiences on January 6 and stressed that many officers continue to grapple with the emotional and physical toll from that day — a painful reality they say is only exacerbated by those who have attempted to whitewash the violence.
Highlighting the importance of continued physical and mental care for officers was a priority for Dunn and Gonell, in particular, ahead of Tuesday’s hearing, according to a source familiar with their preparations ahead of the hearing, who noted that was reflected in their testimony.
“More than six months later, January 6 still isn’t over for me,” Dunn, a Black officer who endured racist attacks from insurrectionists during the assault, told the panel. “I know so many other officers continue to hurt, both physically and emotionally,”
Dunn added that he has sought counseling “for the persistent emotional trauma of that day” and implored his colleagues to do the same if needed.
“I want to take this moment and speak to my fellow officers about the emotions they are continuing to experience from the events of January 6. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional counseling,” he said. “What we all went through that day was traumatic, and if you are hurting please take advantage of the counseling services that are available to us.”
Gonell became visibly emotional during his statement.
When he got home at nearly 4 a.m. on January 7, Gonell said, he could not hug his wife because of all the chemicals on his uniform. He was back to work later that morning, and he worked for 15 consecutive days to continue defending the Capitol. He said he continues to recover from injuries.
“We are not asking for medals, recognition; we simply want justice and accountability,” Gonell said. “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. That day continues to be a constant trauma for us literally every day.”
Fanone, whose body camera footage shows how he was pulled into the crowd, beaten with a flagpole and repeatedly tased with his own stun gun on January 6, also testified about how he continues to struggle with psychological trauma from the attack.
“As my physical injuries subsided and the adrenaline that stayed with me for weeks waned, I’ve been left with the psychological trauma and the emotional anxiety of having survived such a horrific event. And my children continue to deal with the trauma of nearly losing their dad that day,” he said.
After he was pulled out of the sea of rioters, Fanone was taken to the hospital and was told by a physician that he suffered a heart attack.
“And I was later diagnosed with a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder,” the officer said.
“It’s an important part of the record for this committee’s investigation and for the country’s understanding of how I was assaulted and nearly killed as the mob attacked the Capitol that day,” Fanone added.
Some Republican lawmakers and former President Donald Trump have attempted to downplay the violence that took place on January 6. But all four officers who testified Tuesday said any claim that the attack was not an armed insurrection is detached from reality.
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of only two GOP members of the panel, specifically asked Gonell about Trump’s comments characterizing those who stormed the Capitol as a “loving crowd.”
“It’s upsetting. It’s a pathetic excuse for his behavior for something that he himself helped to create. I’m still recovering from the hugs and kisses that day,” he responded, referring to Trump’s unfounded claim that rioters were displaying affection toward law enforcement that day rather than violently clashing with officers.
Fanone echoed Gonell’s sense of frustration, telling the panel that those who are denying what happened that day “betray their oath of office.”
“I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room, but too many are now telling me that hell doesn’t exist, or that hell actually wasn’t that bad. The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful,” Fanone said, slamming his fist on the table.
All four officers also agreed that the only way for those involved, and the nation, to move on from the attack is to make sure it can never happen again.
“There can be no moving on without accountability. There can be no healing until we make sure this cannot happen again,” MPD Officer Hodges said later in the hearing while responding to questions from Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois about efforts by some in his own party to whitewash the events of January 6.
Still, some of the witnesses suggested that the attack has irreparably changed their view of America and faith in the ideals it sets forth.
“I guess it is America. It shouldn’t be,” Dunn said.
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