Washington, DC – The U.S. Capitol Police were unprepared to protect the Capitol building on Wednesday and faced off with rioters with a routine number of officers who weren’t wearing riot gear.
Some of the officers were equipped for a protest but they hadn’t been warned to prepare for a riot, the Associated Press reported.
People familiar with the planning for the event said that Capitol Police leadership treated the impending march as a free speech demonstration and weren’t prepared for the violence that ensued.
Those sources also told the Associated Press there was no contingency plan for an attempt to breach the Capitol’s security.
The chaos erupted at about 12:40 p.m. on Jan. 6 when the first wave of protesters arrived at the Capitol, The Washington Post reported.
A group of about 8,000 supporters of President Donald Trump marched down Pennsylvania Avenue moments after the President issued a message of support on the Ellipse.
There were 1,400 U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officers on duty when the riot began, The Washington Post reported.
At the same time the President was speaking, authorities discovered two pipe bombs planted near the Republic National Committee and Democratic National Committee offices, not far from the Capitol grounds.
USCP Chief Steven Sund said he was called away to deal with the explosive devices, The Washington Post reported.
Chief Sund later told The Washington Post that he believed the pipe bombs were an intentional effort to distract police officials and draw officers away from the Capitol perimeter so as to leave Congress with less protection.
Rioters breached the outer perimeter on the west side of the Capitol in less than 15 minutes, according to The Washington Post.
“As soon as they hit the fence line, the fight was on,” Chief Sund said. “Violent confrontations from the start. They came with riot helmets, gas masks, shields, pepper spray, fireworks, climbing gear — climbing gear! — explosives, metal pipes, baseball bats. I have never seen anything like it in 30 years of events in Washington.”
He said videos showed rioters tore down the barrier fence around the Capitol and threw it at police officers’ heads, The Washington Post reported.
The Associated Press reported that a police lieutenant issued an order that officers were not to use deadly force against the rampaging mob that was attempting to gain access to the Capitol building.
Ashan Benedict, special agent in charge of the Washington field division for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), said the rioters were better equipped than police and didn’t hesitate to use the weapons they had brought, the Associated Press reported.
“They had apparently more bear spray and pepper spray and chemical munitions than we did,” Agent Benedict said. “We’re coming up with plans to counteract their chemical munitions with some of our own less-than-lethal devices, so these conversations are going on as this chaos is unfolding in front of my eyes.”
He said that he activated an ATF Special Response Team that was on standby as soon as he learned about the breach at the Capitol, but by the time they arrived at 2:40 p.m. to help, the halls of Congress were packed with rioters, the Associated Press reported.
Federal agents eventually cleared the Capitol Rotunda and then went office-by-office to clear the building.
“We just started moving crowds of people out of the Capitol complex and then going through one-by-one, each room and rooms off of rooms, to identify friendlies from hostiles,” Agent Benedict said.
Critics of the way police handled the Capitol riot have pointed the finger at the chief of the Capitol Police, the Associated Press reported.
But the 55-year-old Chief Sund, who resigned effective Jan. 16 on the day after the riot, said he had asked six times for additional help to protect the U.S. Capitol that day ahead of the events but was turned down repeatedly, The Washington Post reported.
“We knew it would be bigger,” Chief Sund said. “We looked at the intelligence. We knew we would have large crowds, the potential for some violent altercations. I had nothing indicating we would have a large mob seize the Capitol.”
But the crowd should not have come as a surprise to any of the law enforcement agencies in the nation’s capital, the Associated Press reported.
The U.S Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other law enforcement agencies were monitoring flights and social media ahead of the planned “Stop the Steal” rally scheduled for the day President-Elect Joe Biden’s election was scheduled to be confirmed by Congress.
Some of the city’s hotels were booked to 100 percent capacity well ahead of time, the Associated Press reported.
Chief Sund called the sergeants at arms for the House and Senate two days ahead of the planned protest and asked them to request that the National Guard be put on emergency standby.
But despite all of that intelligence about what might happen, House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving said that he wasn’t comfortable with the “optics” of declaring an emergency ahead of time, The Washington Post reported.
Chief Sund said that Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger told him to informally contact the National Guard and asked them to “lean forward” and be prepared to back up USCP officers.
The chief said he did as he was told and reached out to Major General William J. Walker, the head of the DC National Guard, and also conferred with new DC Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) Chief Robert Contee, whom he said promised backup for Capitol police if it was needed, The Washington Post reported.
Chief Contee came through as promised when he received a panicked call for help on Jan. 6, but despite Chief Sund’s heads up to Walker, it took four-and-a-half hours to get National Guard boots on the ground after he repeatedly told officials “the situation is dire” and they needed help, the Associated Press reported.
“I realized at 1 p.m., things aren’t going well,” Chief Sund told the Washington Post. “I’m watching my people getting slammed.”
The Capitol Police chief called the DC police for help and Chief Contee immediately sent 100 officers to back them up, The Washington Post reported.
Chief Sund said he called the sergeants at arms for the House and Senate at 1:09 p.m. and asked them to call in the National Guard.
Rioters breached the entrance of the Capitol building at 1:59 p.m. but still Chief Sund didn’t receive approval to bring in the National Guard until 2:10 p.m., The Washington Post reported.
And then, even with approval, getting National Guard troops to help was a bureaucratic nightmare.
The first guardsmen didn’t arrive at the Capitol building to help until 5:40 p.m., after four people had died and most of the rioters had left the area.
One woman was fatally shot by a plainclothes U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) officer during the melee after she breached the Capitol and tried to enter the House chamber, CBS News reported.
The rioters stopped the certification of the Electoral College votes as the building was evacuated.
A 42-year-old Capitol Police officer died on Thursday from injuries suffered at the hands of the rioters.
USCP Officer Brian Sicknick collapsed at his division office after he was “injured while physically engaging with protesters” at the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, the USCP said in a press release.
The department did not elaborate on the injuries he suffered, but two law enforcement officials said he was hit with a fire extinguisher as rioters stormed through the halls of Congress and lawmakers hid beneath their desks, The New York Times reported.
The governors of Maryland and Virginia sent state troopers and National Guard to assist in quelling the riot.
More than 18 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, and eventually the National Guard, assisted in bringing the violence under control on Wednesday.
Both sergeants of arms have since resigned their positions, The Washington Post reported.