WASHINGTON (WDVM) — Tuesday was the first day of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s investigation into the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Senate Rules Committee Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar said they’ll investigate what went wrong, what was known about the potential for violence before the attack, and how that information was shared with law enforcement partners.
“For many Americans, this will be the first opportunity to hear about what happened in the Capitol on January 6 directly from our witnesses,” said Senator Gary Peters, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee.
That included Captain Carneysha Mendoza, a field commander for the U.S. Capitol Police Department’s Special Operations Division, who made her way alone into the Capitol through a lower level door.
“After a couple hours,” she testified, “officers cleared the rotunda, but had to physically hold the door closed because it had been broken by the rioters. Officers begged me for relief as they were unsure how long they could physically hold the door closed with the crowd continually banging on the outside of the door.” She suffered chemical burns on her face that still haven’t healed. She spent January 7 at the hospital comforting family members of the late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who died of the injuries he sustained during the attack.
Mendoza believes that even if the Capitol Police had “ten times as much help, the battle would have been just as devastating.” She also commended former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund for his leadership. Sund resigned on January 7.
“I love this agency, I love the men and women of this agency and I regret the day I left,” said Sund. “We had planned for the possibility of violence, the possibility of some people being armed, not the possibility of a coordinated military-style attack involving thousands against the Capitol.”
Sund said the police department prepared for an event similar to the Million MAGA March last fall. He believed that’s what FBI investigators were anticipating; that is, until January 5, when the FBI’s field office issued a threat report that said protesters were “ready for war.” Sund didn’t see that memo until February 22 — the day before he testified. Instead, he told Senator Amy Klobuchar, the memo went to another sworn member.
“They received it the evening of the 5th, reviewed it, and forwarded it over to an official at U.S. Capitol Police Headquarters,” he said.
“And so you did not see it yourself?” Klobuchar asked.
“No, ma’am. It did not go any further than that,” Sund said.
Even the former House and Senate sergeants-at-arms, who also testified Tuesday, didn’t see the memo.
The Metropolitan Police Department’s Acting Chief Rob Contee remembered a call on January 6 in which Sund “literally pleaded with” the Capitol Police Board to authorize a declaration of emergency and backup from the National Guard. He says they were more concerned about “optics.”
“I was just stunned that I have officers who are out there literally fighting for their lives and we’re kind of going through what seemed like an exercise to check the boxes and there was not an immediate response,” said Contee.
Contee reminded the committee members that MPD officers are prohibited by federal law from patrolling, making arrests, or serving warrants without the request of the U.S. Capitol Police. The president controls D.C. National Guard for federal areas, like the Capitol building.
He also confirmed that the demonstrations at the riots were not issued permits, however, he believes it was a coordinated event. Protesters fought against officers with their fists and with pipes, sticks, bats, metal barricades, and flag poles. They used climbing gear to scale the side of the building and communicated through hand signals and radios.
1,100 of the MPD’s officers responded and at least 65 were injured.
Sund is calling for new training, policies, and procedures for “special events” within the police department. He said many of his officers felt “confused or let down” during the attack.
Next week, the committee will hear from members of federal agencies, including the FBI.