Assault on the Capitol: What Officers Have to Say

January 13, 2021

Not surprisingly, Jim Glennon’s commentary Should You Shoot Someone Breaching the U.S. Capitol? drew heavy feedback from scores of officers nationwide representing a broad range of experience at the federal, state and local levels. Here are just a few of the e-mails we received:

Daniel Grasso, a former U.S. Capitol Police Captain and retired MSgt. with the U.S. Air Force Security Forces writes:

Maybe we need to have a separate category for use of deadly force to defend

elected governmental officials and their staffs in the performance of their duties from violence or threat of violence from those individuals or group of individuals attempting to violently interfere with or violently overthrow the government.

Mob violence cannot be reasoned with and is akin to vigilante justice.  There is no place for either in our system of government.  

Just as we cannot release a prisoner to a vigilante mob, we cannot allow an anti-government mob to disrupt democratically elected government officials and their staff in the performance of their duty and must safeguard the places where the three government branches carry out their business; the White House, the U.S. Capitol and the Supreme Court.  These locations should be afforded special protections due to their primacy to the functioning of our government. 

I am surprised that the U.S. Capitol Police did not use more deadly force, although I can understand why they may have decided not to.  Clearly the mob was capable of subduing and inflicting deadly force on officers merely by their numbers.  Their intent was clear from their actions and words.  

Air Force Security Forces, of which I was a member, were allowed to use deadly force for incursions into restricted areas where high value aircraft were stored; one of those being Air Force One. Losing that aircraft with its command-and-control functions would seriously impede our ability to defend the United States (as well as nuclear missile silos etc.)

A place or thing can be so valuable that protecting it, in and of itself, is necessary. Knowing this, any person or group that attempts to takeover or disrupt these places are put on notice that deadly force may be used to protect them.

The above aside, I am perplexed why accessible windows were not armored, like the ones at the Pentagon, to withstand a blast and in this case being shattered to allow entry into the building.  Another complex on Capitol Hill allows for all exterior doors to be locked down with ONE switch.  The Capitol should have such a system if possible. 

The bottom line is that officers need to have clear instructions when their duties include not only regular police duties but the responsibility to protect a hallmark government building essential to the functioning of our government.

From Bill Taylor, a former Department of Defense LEO and Lethal Force Instructor:

Seeing everything unfold was horrible.  Our rules of engagement were simple; due to the Defense Security Act we could shoot. We need to know what the command staff told these officers. Not that I’m open for random shoot, but you made seriously valid points on why they could have fired.

For some reason–and LEO’S that do physical security need to know the answer–why was planning so bad? Why weren’t people arrested as they were leaving? Were there no contingencies set up to handle mass arrests? 

To the Brothers and Sisters still protecting the line, stay safe.

MSgt. James Wickman (ret.), formerly with the U.S. Air Force Security Police, writes:

Bad shoot. Lower level of force should have been used first. Going hands on and pushing her back. Taser. Baton.  

Greg O’Hara, a retired Sr. Cpl. with the U.S. Treasury Police responds:

…even the strangest idea is not to be ignored when it comes to protecting our democracy and its institutions! I’ve seen and taken part in training for just the type of situation that occurred in DC last week.

My brothers and sisters were exposed to a violent element of society, the very ones

we are sworn to protect and serve, who were carrying spears and improvised weapons, like the fire extinguishers that surround the inside of the Capitol. It is not easy for me to sit here and watch.

It will come down to a jury to understand the actions taken at the time in light of all

the circumstances, and that’s the problem! One has to realize that those in the mob are performing acts that could be deadly to us.

As for me: if ANYONE tries to get past me and appears to be reaching the Senators, Congress people and areas I am protecting, I have to at some point fire a warning shot as a last-ditch effort to let the crowd know that death awaits, before I take a life. My life hangs in the balance as well if I fail to stop the mob!

Officer Dan Paling with Eaton Rapids (MI) PD writes:

It’s easy to armchair quarterback these decisions. Those officers have the main job of keeping everyone inside safe, even at the expense of their own lives and careers. We know that is a possibility every time we suit up. 

In this instance, I believe he was well within his right to stop the threat.  Veteran or not she was in the commission of a felony by breaking into that building. However, we are all in CYA mode because no matter what we do, we are wrong. In the end you have to justify within yourself that you did what you had to do to protect all the government officials behind you.  

Great article and a lot of thinking points. 

Sgt. James Reschke (ret.), from San Diego shares:

An OIS is nothing compared to a riot. Riots are the scariest events I’ve ever been involved with over my 36-year career. Right now, I don’t have enough information to make a judgment about this shooting. I can only guess that this officer was scared of all of those people attempting to enter that particular area. I can understand those feelings. He must still, however, explain why he did shoot. His thoughts are critical to the investigation.  

Reader Joe Nyomozo writes:

I was a military police officer for 10 years guarding our nation’s highest priority resource. Then I was a civilian police officer for 14 years. I was on SWAT, a firearms instructor, a hostage negotiator andwasCIT trained. I say this because my opinion on this matter stems from those experiences and training.

As I understand it, the Capitol Building is a “restricted area.” I don’t know if it is a “deadly force authorized” building or not. The uniqueness of a mob assault is different from a singular threat as the police will always be outnumbered! If a mob can rule, anything can happen. Sometimes the only way to stop a mob takeover is to shoot.

I realize this sounds harsh, but not really. Let’s remember that the people who were there didn’t get there by accident. It’s like the burglar that climbs in your house at 2 AM. He or she chooses to be there and their intentions are NOT innocent. In most states you would be legally allowed to shoot if articulating your fears.

The Capitol holds the top 600 plus leaders and lawmakers of our country as well as classified material and other critical documents. Politically speaking, the Capitol and what it contains is just as much a “high value priority resource” as our secret weapon systems are! If we are not willing to defend it or our laws would punish the police officers for trying to defend it, then we might as well disarm our entire police force.

Mob rule is not acceptable. It can’t be victorious over the rule of law! 

Lt. Craig Venson (Ret.) from Plainfield, NJ responds:

I’m very conservative in the application of the use of force on citizens. I truly believe that the very least amount should be used.

I whole heartedly believe that deadly force should have and could have been used in many more instances than it was used during this incident based on the totality of circumstances known to those officers at that time. I believe that even more now that video has emerged showing how truly harrowing the situation was in real time.

These insurrectionists had plans and had they been able to physically see and grab the politicians whom they believed had wronged them (i.e., Pelosi, Pence, Clyburn) there would have indeed been the murder of a high-ranking political figure to contend with.

We all saw the aftermath videos and listened to the harrowing accounts of those victims who were there, so we know that any “reasonable officer” would have felt like his life or the ones he/she was sworn to protect were in danger. Thus, deadly force would have been JUSTIFIED completely.

From 33-year veteran police lieutenant Dennis L. Eberly:

I have been tossing around in my mind the shooting of an unarmed 14-year USAF veteran during the Capitol incident ever since I watched it unfold live on TV news coverage.  I have done some on-line research to learn more about her.  She had multiple overseas deployments and, I believe, she may have been USAF Security Forces.  If that is correct, she should have had a better perspective of use of force situations than the typical citizen.  

On the face of it, I have a difficult time justifying the shooting of a person who is not displaying a weapon or actively engaged in assaultive behavior.  All reports I have seen said she was unarmed and crawling through a broken window of the chamber. 

The key question I have in regard to this shooting is:  “What are the rules of engagement the Capitol Police have to guide them in protecting a chamber occupied by federal lawmakers?”  

I certainly could fathom that such a situation may result in a policy authorization to use deadly force. This would be much like protecting critical resources on an Air Force base (based on my 5 yrs. experience in the USAF Security Police).  If someone penetrates the perimeter around such resources, deadly force is authorized.  Signs were posted that delineated the authorization of the use of deadly force in protecting the area. 

Another important observation in the Capitol incident is that some of the protesters had flex-cuffs in their possession.  One could reasonably infer that the same thoughts existed here as in the foiled plot against the Michigan state government last year where the plan was to kidnap several government officials.  Was this also a plot to kidnap government officials?  If that was the intent, that certainly ups the ante with regard to using deadly force.  

Det. Ron Willis (ret.), formerly with Gresham (OR) PD, writes:

I’m of the opinion that deadly force should not be deployed for simple trespassing on public property and vandalism.  The bulk of my experience was as a detective and member of a major crime team, including investigating officer involved shootings.  In one instance I was involved in a fatal shooting.      

I wasn’t at the Capitol, thankfully, and don’t wish to second guess those who were.  However, from what I observed on TV video, the officer who did use deadly force against a trespasser, albeit an aggressive one, was not justified.

Retired Chicago PD Sgt. Koren responds:

Having been involved in numerous civil disorders I feel somewhat qualified on this matter.

In my opinion, the Capitol Police were completely overwhelmed. After viewing the myriad of pictures and videos, the use of deadly force was their only option. It thwarted the advance of the mob into the Capitol chambers.

The officers were not equipped to repel the horde as they forced their way into the building. The immediate threat of violence appears to be immensely grave.  Going “hands on” in these close quarters would be an unrealistic idea.

Barricades were breached. Many were armed with weapons to resist law enforcement. Given few options and being overwhelmed by a mob, deadly force was necessary to prevent an attack on not only the officers, but the people they were charged to protect.

It is regrettable the any lives had to be lost, both the military officer and the Capitol police officer. Violence to make a point is abhorrent behavior.

Retired Sergeant John Converse writes:

The riot at the U.S. Capitol and the subsequent OIS are unfortunate examples of poor decision-making prior to the event.  While most Trump supporters (or Biden supporters, for that matter) are law-abiding and non-violent,  we have seen an increase in violence associated with political rallies attended by Proud Boys and other more radical Trump supporters.  Some of these events occurred in the District of Columbia.

Since Congress and the electoral vote were the flashpoints for this demonstration, there is no excuse for U.S. Capitol Police failing to anticipate a possible march on the Capitol, which was clearly and obviously within walking distance of the initial rally.  While I can’t argue with the decision to maintain a normal complement of officers in standardized duty uniforms around the Capitol initially,  mobile field forces in riot gear could have been staged nearby. A mobile field force could have defended the Capitol and, indeed, their deployment might have deterred the riot.

Reader John Mullan writes:

Good article. Touched on all the right points. 40 years in law enforcement, both military and civilian. Son of a cop and have two sons on the job: one a Combat Marine and the other former USAF Security Forces Sniper. I myself have been involved in four police shootings. Three of them I actually discharged my weapon. I have seen the videos of this incident and there are serious issues here.

Not enough was done to secure the building. It would appear that the Capitol police were caught with their pants down. If they say they didn’t expect a riot, they are either lying or too stupid to be in the position of securing the Federal Government.

There were three officers guarding that door from the outside who were directly engaging the people who had breached the building. There was no violence being perpetrated against them. Plenty of screaming and yelling, but NO violence.

Just prior to the shooting those three uniforms walked away from the door, abandoning their posts and leaving the door open to attack. The windows were smashed the entire time and an officer on the opposite side was pointing his firearm at the suspects.

Once the woman attempted to climb through one of the broken windows, the officer could have walked up at any point and pushed her back and given the verbal commands that he would fire. Instead, he went for a head shot, and you can’t convince me otherwise. I do not see how this officer can say he was in fear of death or great bodily harm under the circumstances, and that is the key in a police shooting. You must be able to articulate that you were in fear of death or great bodily harm, and he would never convince me he was.

Retired Chicago Police Tactical Officer Mike Kerrigan writes:

A woman climbing through a window at the Capitol or at a tavern – what is the difference?

(Unless the Capitol has a special exemption in application of deadly force).

Did she brandish a weapon? Did she verbalize an anthrax or bomb threat? NO. 

She was climbing through a window by all reports I have read. Trespass to property and disorderly conduct – yes. Deadly force is not warranted.

The Federal Courthouse in Portland Oregon was taken over, vandalized and subsequently started on fire. Should the individuals that were responsible for that be shot? 

If so, there would have been a lot of dead people in Portland.

Dennis McNulty,  a retired Detective from Arizona DPS comments:

The video of the officer retreating up the stairs in the face of a mob is tough; the mob itself represents an implied threat, but there was no apparent immediate physical threat to him so retreating was his best tactic.

Referencing the video of the three officers in suits pointing guns at that barricaded door on the floor of the Senate; I believe they were Secret Service Agents on the Vice President’s security detail. I believe they would have justification to have shoot had the doors been forced open (I have never known what that agency’s use of force policy is exactly).  

The video of the solo officer who shot the woman climbing through the smashed window shows he had, I believe, more than enough legal justification to shoot her.  He was alone and was watching a mob violently smash through those door windows which, I am sure, caused him to fear for his life if the mob made it through the door.

This entire incident is a sad mark on our history and an obvious massive leadership failure on the part of Capitol Police command. 

Firearms Instructor and Rangemaster Bert Adkins says:

My opinion is this is a crime against property. I don’t see any threat to the shooter after review of the actual video. It’s a tough call, as is the case with most officer-involved shootings. However, I would not have taken the shot as I saw it.

What was the mind-set of the officer as he saw her attempting to enter? If she had breached and was through the opening and presenting a threat to him, different scenario. It’s a tough case but this is a training scenario we must address, unfortunately. I don’t believe the shooting was justified. 

Officer Zane Simpson with the Henderson (NV) PD writes:

I just can’t see how this was imminent jeopardy.  The lady was on the other side of a door.  Clearly nothing in her hands as she was climbing through a window. It is going to be deemed a good shoot, but… 

Can you imagine if law enforcement had shot someone like that during the Portland or Seattle peaceful protests? It would have been all over the news and the press would have been calling for the officer to be charged with murder.

Thanks for getting this conversation going.

Finally, an Ohio Detective writes:

Such a great article that poses many questions for both sides of this incident. America has lost what I call societal “absolutes.” I think most people know not to storm Area 51 as they may lose their life…but would they? During the riots over the summer, I thought for sure the rioters were going to breach the White House grounds, but I think deadly force played a role on not pushing the breach.

Lastly, with these constant riots, looting and challenges to police authority, this group went for it and succeeded. Now we enter another chapter in American history where an absolute and taboo has been broken. Much like school or workplace active shooters, they too became commonplace after this absolute was broken.

Leadership from the top to the bottom has to establish clear and concise orders to law enforcement and convey the message to the public. It has to be very simple and understood by the public: If you get out of hand, we will attempt less lethal to prevent a breach and protect citizens and leaders. However, deadly force WILL be used when these measures fail. Everyone knows you ABSOLUTELY don’t try and pet a lion. The same should be true for our law enforcement officers and sacred grounds! 

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