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Capitol police sergeant discusses upcoming Jan. 6 hearings

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Two nights from now, Thursday night, when the public hearings for the House select committee's investigation into January 6 get underway, there will be two audiences. Many Americans are expected to watch on live primetime TV, and then there's the folks who will actually be there in person - among them, Capitol Police Staff Sergeant Aquilino Gonell.

AQUILINO GONELL: I'll be in the room along with a couple police officer (inaudible).

KELLY: A couple of colleagues.

GONELL: Yes, colleagues.

KELLY: Gonell defended the Capitol during the insurrection - the west entrance. He told me he has had Thursday's hearing on his calendar, along with the other sessions the committee has planned.

GONELL: As you know, I'm very invested in it just for the fact of what happened to me. And I'm just there to learn about, to understand - some people were involved in orchestrating, planning and find out who those people are so we can hold them accountable.

KELLY: Sergeant Gonell isn't working Thursday night. He will be off duty as he listens. And I was curious what he'll be listening for. Sergeant Gonell, welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm so glad to speak with you again.

GONELL: Thanks for having me back.

KELLY: May I start by asking how you're doing? I know you had to take 10 months medical leave after the riot. And I remember when I spoke to you six months ago, it was still hard for you to raise your left arm. So how are you doing?

GONELL: I'm doing a lot better mentally and physically, but I still have limitations. Just this week, my physical therapist told me that I'm at a maximum recovery and whatever issues I have, they're going to be permanent for the rest of my life.

KELLY: May I ask what the remaining issues are?

GONELL: The internal rotation of my left shoulder, I'm unable to fully move my arms at some moments or range of motions.

KELLY: So the scars of that day are going to stay with you. And what about the mental healing? I know you were wrestling with that, too, when we last spoke.

GONELL: Regarding the mental, I have continued my treatment with my psychologists, and I have made a lot of improvement. However, the constant downplaying, going back over what happened and going back to the Capitol almost every day has taken a toll on me. And pretty soon, I think I'll make a decision on whether I continue to work as a police officer or not.

KELLY: 'Cause it's hard to go back and do the same job in the same place every day.

GONELL: Yes, and especially hearing from some of the very same people who I risked my life to protect - now they'd rather fight for the people who injured me, rather than me who protected them on that day. And to me, it's very disappointing, very discouraging to have risked my life for them, and then they make us seem like we are - Capitol Police and the other law enforcement officers who defended them and gave them the time to get to safety on January 6 - to them, we're - seemed like we're the bad guy 'cause we stopped those people from doing what they probably were expecting to happen.

KELLY: This is members of Congress you're talking about?

GONELL: Elected officials.

KELLY: So I'm curious what, specifically, you are hoping may emerge, what questions you're hoping to learn the answers to from these hearings.

GONELL: To be honest, I just want the truth. I mean, like I said on my testimony back in last year, I had a feeling at the moment when I was fighting those people that this was well-coordinated. And from revelations that we have seen coming out from the investigations and through the court system, it has - and it was coordinated from the top down, from the president down. This was no coincidence of what happened. I believe that since the election, everybody who supported the president - most of them - they had a handle on it in terms of coordinating it, planning it, orchestrating it, including downplaying it after the fact, even though on January 6 they were running for their lives.

KELLY: Do you think most Americans have an accurate understanding of what happened that day? There's been so much controversy and debate afterward. Obviously, that's what this investigation is hoping to get to the bottom of. But do you think most Americans now get what happened?

GONELL: I think most of them, they do. However, the louder voice that has been downplaying it and drowning out the news cycle and the revelations that have come out, they - there's a great deal of people even trying to downplay or redirect or spin what happened. But those people, they have not come and talked to me about what happened to me.

We had people on January 6 - they were calling for trial by combat. If you don't fight, you're going to have - we won't have a country. And that's exactly what those people - they thought that they wouldn't have a country. And under false pretense, they attacked police officers in full uniform to the point of injuring them. And we lost at least five officers due to that horrible day. And I almost lost my life, too. I hope that the American people learn how close we were to losing our democracy. I know - I certainly know that for a fact because I lived it.

KELLY: I'm curious what - in terms of the outcome of these hearings where there won't be a judge meting out punishment - as you prepare to watch these hearings as a civilian, what would count to you as justice, as accountability?

GONELL: I'm still a law enforcement...

KELLY: Yeah.

GONELL: ...Officer as of right now. In terms of justice, I think holding people accountable - if that means barring people from holding office in the future or preventing them from even getting to become a candidate, that would be a form of justice because if you cannot uphold your oath of office while you are currently a member of - an elected official or a public trust position, why would I trust you again with that authority or that position when you disregarded everything that that oath stands for?

KELLY: That is Capitol Police Staff Sergeant Aquilino Gonell. Thank you very much for talking with me again.

GONELL: Oh, you're welcome. Have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Ashish Valentine joined NPR as its second-ever Reflect America fellow and is now a production assistant at All Things Considered. As well as producing the daily show and sometimes reporting stories himself, his job is to help the network's coverage better represent the perspectives of marginalized communities.
Sarah Handel