First Responders

US Capitol Police Fail To Protect the Capitol Building — Here’s What Happened

January 8, 2021Joshua Skovlund
police response Capitol building

Police clashed with supporters of President Donald Trump outside the Capitol before the protesters breached the police line and then stormed the building during the “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C. Jan. 6. Photo by Joseph Andrew Lee/Coffee or Die Magazine.

On Wednesday, a contingent of President Donald Trump’s supporters turned violent as hundreds of rioters stormed the Capitol building, breaking windows and doors in the process. More than 50 US Capitol Police and Metropolitan Police Department officers were injured, and several were hospitalized with severe injuries that occurred during the turmoil, according to a USCP press release.  

The USCP arrested 13 people for “unlawful entry of the U.S. Capitol,” according to the release. Many officers fought to hold the line against advancing rioters outside the building, while some officers engaged in an armed standoff with rioters inside. One police officer appeared to take a selfie with a rioter inside the Capitol building, and other officers appeared to remove barriers to allow protesters closer.

The attack on the Capitol building marked a major failure in security and is the first time the building has been violently occupied since 1814 when the British seized and set fire to it. Calls for the USCP Chief Steven Sund to resign were made by members of Congress after the dangerous situation was resolved, with many questioning why security around the Capitol building seemed to pale in comparison with the law enforcement and military response to civil unrest and protests that occurred over the summer. Sund submitted a letter of resignation, to be effective Jan. 16, on Thursday afternoon. 

“It’s like watching a real-life horror movie. I mean, we train and plan and budget every day, basically, to have this not happen,” said Kim Dine, chief of the USCP from 2012 to 2016. “How it happened, I can’t figure that out.”

world reactions Capitol mob
Mob violence outside the US Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6. Photo courtesy of @ajplus via Twitter.

In a statement Thursday, Sund defended the department by saying that the Wednesday incident was something he had never experienced in his long law enforcement career. 

“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C. Maintaining public safety in an open environment — specifically for First Amendment activities — has long been a challenge. The USCP had a robust plan established to address anticipated First Amendment activities,” Sund said. “But make no mistake — these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior. The actions of the USCP officers were heroic given the situation they faced, and I continue to have tremendous respect in the professionalism and dedication of the women and men of the United States Capitol Police.”

Sund continued to explain that law enforcement officers were attacked with metal pipes, chemical irritants, and other weapons. He said, “They were determined to enter into the Capitol Building by causing great damage.”

A USCP officer fired his pistol at a female, now identified as 35-year-old US Air Force veteran Ashli Babbitt, who was attempting to climb into one of the Capitol chambers through a broken door that was barricaded. This officer has been placed on administrative leave according to the USCP press release. Three other people, in addition to Babbitt, died during the riots yesterday due to unrelated medical issues, according to The Hill.

While USCP and MPD officers attempted to clear the rioters out of the Capitol building, other USCP officers were responding to two reports of bombs as well as a suspicious vehicle. Both devices, described as pipe bombs, were deemed to be “hazardous and could cause great harm to public safety.” The devices were defused by law enforcement bomb teams and handed over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for further assessment. 

There were 200 Virginia state troopers along with the Virginia National Guard sent to assist USCP, according to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. The Virginia National Guard confirmed its presence but declined to confirm the number of guardsmen assisting the police. In addition, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan mobilized 500 members of the Maryland National Guard and 200 Maryland state troopers to help quell the riots. 

During a Thursday press conference, Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said that 6,200 National Guard soldiers will be in Washington by the weekend.

The pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally temporarily delayed Congress from certifying the Electoral College votes to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory until Capitol and MPD officers were able to push the mob out Wednesday evening. The Electoral College vote was certified early Thursday morning, officially recognizing Joe Biden as the President-elect of the United States. 

Both USCP and MPD had not returned requests for further information at the time of publication.

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He has covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children. His creative outlets include Skovlund Photography and Concentrated Emotion.

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