WASHINGTON – As the rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol, many of the police officers had to decide on their own how to fight them off. There was no direction. No plan. And no top leadership.
One cop ran from one side of the building to another, fighting hand-to-hand against rioters. Another decided to respond to any calls of officers in distress and spent three hours helping cops who had been immobilized by bear spray or other chemicals.
Three officers were able to handcuff one rioter. But a crowd swarmed the group and took the arrested man away with the handcuffs still on.
Interviews with four members of the U.S. Capitol Police who were overrun by rioters Jan. 6 show just how quickly the command structure collapsed as throngs of people, egged on by President Donald Trump, set upon the Capitol. The officers spoke on condition of anonymity because the department has threatened to suspend anyone who speaks to the media.
“We were on our own,” one of the officers said. “Totally on our own.”
The officers said they were given next to no warning by leadership on the morning of Jan. 6 about what would become a growing force of thousands of rioters, many better armed than the officers were. And once the riot began, they were given no instructions by the department's leaders on how to stop the mob or rescue lawmakers who had barricaded themselves inside. There were only enough officers for a routine day.
Three officers told the AP they did not hear Chief Steven Sund on the radio the entire afternoon. It turned out he was sheltering with Vice President Mike Pence in a secure location for some of the siege. Sund resigned the next day.
His assistant chief, Yogananda Pittman, was heard over the radio telling the force to “lock the building down,” with no further instructions, two officers said.
Lt. Tarik Johnson told officers not to use deadly force outside the building as the rioters descended, the officers recounted. The order almost certainly prevented deaths and more chaos, but it meant officers didn't pull their weapons and were fighting back with fists and batons.
Johnson has been suspended after being captured on video wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Johnson told colleagues he wore the hat to gain the crowd's confidence as he tried to reach other officers pinned down by rioters, one of the officers said. A video obtained by the Wall Street Journal shows Johnson asking rioters for help in getting his colleagues.
Johnson, who could not be reached for comment, was heard by an officer on the radio repeatedly asking, “Does anybody have a plan?”