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A Capitol Police officer injured on Jan. 6 recalls the chaos and carnage

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards testifies during a hearing by the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Thursday in Washington.
Drew Angerer
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U.S. Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards testifies during a hearing by the select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Thursday in Washington.

The House panel heard on Thursday night from U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards, who it described as the first law enforcement officer to be injured in the Jan. 6 riot.

It also played video of her being violently slammed to the ground by protesters breaking through a barrier outside of the Capitol, knocking her unconscious — the first of several injuries she sustained that day.

"I couldn't believe my eyes," she recalled of the scene, which she compared to a war zone. "There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding, they were throwing up ... I saw friends with blood all over their faces, I was slipping in people's blood. I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage, it was chaos. I can't even describe what I saw."

Several law enforcement officers who responded to the riot, as well as family members of those who died as a result, looked on as Edwards described her experience.

Edwards said as the mob grew, she told her sergeant "the understatement of the century: 'Sarge, I think we're going to need a few more people down here.'"

The officers on that part of the Capitol grounds grabbed bike racks to try to keep the protesters at bay and buy time for more units to respond.

As officers and protesters grappled over the bike racks, she remembers feeling one come on top of her head and pushing her backwards. Her foot caught on one of the concrete stairs behind her and her chin hit the handrail, at which point she lost consciousness and her head hit the stairs.

Edwards returned to duty after regaining consciousness, helping treat people who were injured and decontaminating people who had been pepper-sprayed. She eventually got back on the line on the lower West Terrace, where she said Officer Brian Sicknick was behind her for roughly half an hour as they tried to hold protesters back.

Sicknick died the following day of what D.C.'s medical examiner ruled natural causes as a result of two strokes. His mother, Gladys Sicknick, was at the hearing and could be seen hugging other officers in attendance.

"All of the sudden I see movement to the left of me, and I turned and it was Officer Sicknick with his head in his hands. He was ghostly pale," Edwards said, adding that she knew something was wrong because people generally turn red, not white, after being pepper sprayed.

"I looked back to see what hit him, what happened, and that's when I get sprayed in the eyes, as well," she said.

Edwards said another officer began to take her away to be decontaminated, but they didn't get the chance because they were hit with tear gas. The committee also played a clip of that moment.

Edwards could be seen at the end of the hearing embracing Sicknick's longtime partner Sandra Garza and telling her "I'm sorry you had to see that."

Earlier, the panel played a 10-minute video that included new graphic footage from the Capitol that day, including some provided by a documentarian who later testified.

She suffered a traumatic brain injury in the riot

In her opening statement, Edwards described her dedication to her job of protecting elected officials, and said her patriotism had never been called into question until that day. She recalled spending hours — including on weekends and holidays — in the baking sun and freezing snow making it possible for lawmakers to do their jobs, and shedding blood, sweat and tears defending the building during the riot.

Edwards invoked her late grandfather, a U.S. Marine who fought in the Korean War and lived the rest of his life with shrapnel still inside his body.

"I'm a proud American and will gladly sacrifice everything to make sure the America my grandfather defended is here for many years to come," she added.

Edwards suffered a traumatic brain injury in the riot, which has prevented her from returning to the Capitol Police's First Responder Unit, the committee said. She hopes to return to duty later this year.

More than 140 U.S. Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police officers were injured while defending the grounds that day, according to a Thursday statement from the U.S. Capitol Police Labor Committee. Four officers died by suicide in the aftermath of the attack.

Gus Papathanasiou, chairman of the Capitol Police Officers' Union, said officers are watching the hearings and hoping they will prompt Congress to provide the force with more support and resources to deal with the "high threat environment" it faces every day.

He said the number of threats made against members of Congress jumped from around 5,200 in 2018 to more than 9,600 last year, and that a security review found that USCP must hire 884 more officers.

It's not just a question of hiring more officers but retaining existing ones, he added, urging Congress to address the "stark disparity" in retirement benefits between the USCP and other federal law enforcement agencies.

Papathanasiou said the force is also seeking to hold multiple parties accountable — including its intelligence chief, who remains in her position even after a no-confidence vote, as well as "who perpetrated the attack and those who conspired to make it happen."

"We trust the Department of Justice will vigorously pursue all those who assaulted our officers and those who threatened the peaceful transfer of power," he added.

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