For Some Capitol Hill Police Officers, Jan. 6 Never Ends

The storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob still haunts some officers, no matter how many days have passed.

U.S. Capitol Police Officer Byron Evans talks freely about the heroics of Jan. 6, 2021. Not his own but of the others around him. He will tell you that the officers inside the Capitol didn’t know how many people were outside.

“We weren’t watching TV,” he said.

He will tell you about COVID-19 restrictions and the number of officers in the building on that day and Congress members’ efforts to get back in session to continue the electoral vote certification once things settled down. He will tell you how officers held people off at the door.

“What people don’t know is that Officer [Eugene] Goodman ran upstairs to tell us that they had breached the building,” Evans told me on the first anniversary of the riot. “We went on lockdown. And Goodman ran back downstairs. If you look at the video of him leading the protesters away, he looks over his shoulder for a second, and that was where we were standing.”

He will tell you with a slight laugh that right before things got serious, he was on break. He will not say that the dissident had become demonic. He will only briefly mention that those pushing outside had forced their way into the building.

He will talk about the mace and pepper spray, and the stinging of his eyes and how it still hung in the air even after the protesters were gone.

But when it comes to how he feels — how he feels now after all of this went down — even a year later, he pauses and then says, “It’s messed up, man.”

Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn testifies during a House select committee hearing last summer on the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Dunn said he doesn't mind speaking out about what happened when the Capitol was attacked.
Capitol Police Sgt. Harry Dunn testifies during a House select committee hearing last summer on the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Dunn said he doesn't mind speaking out about what happened when the Capitol was attacked.
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

For many officers, Jan. 6 was the beginning of a terror that still lives inside them. The trauma from that day still actively swims inside their collective psyche. Toughness doesn’t allow for a free-flowing conversation about the events of that day among officers; or, it does as long as it stays above feelings.

Evans can talk easily about the physical pain:

“I worked so long that when I could finally go home; around 4 or 5 a.m., I could barely walk to my car,” he said. “It felt like I’d done two or three leg days in a row.”

And how he had to be back at work the very next day.

“It was all hands on deck,” he said. “It was almost like, ‘Did that really just happen?’” The damage to the Capitol confirmed he wasn’t imagining things.

“And it was difficult watching people, knowing that they were going through it but they couldn’t show it. And that hasn’t ended, to be honest.”

For many who tried to stop the insurrection, the trauma continues. Death threats still come in from those who believe that the country actively worked to steal the election from former President Donald Trump. Elected officials still downplay the events of that day, even a year later, when they’ve had to backtrack.

So the days drag on the way days do, and the haunting of Jan. 6 remains. Evans says a little prayer each day before he goes into work. He even laughs that it might be corny. It’s not. He notes that his main goal each day is to make it back home. He adds that he doesn’t have to agree with the politics of those occupying the seats in Congress to protect them, so that’s what he does.


Every day.

He will note the obvious irony that lives between radicalized insurrectionists storming the Capitol and Blue Lives Matter supporters often being the same people.

Many know of Ashli Babbitt, the insurrectionist fatally shot by police officers who has become a martyr for those who believe that the Capitol riot was just. But how many remember Gunther Hashida, Kyle DeFreytag and Howard Liebengood, all police officers who died by suicide soon after protecting the Capitol from enraged MAGA proponents and QAnon followers.

The family of Liebengood — who died just three days after the insurrection — is fighting for his death to be classified as in the line of duty.

“Although he was severely sleep-deprived, he remained on duty — as he was directed — practically around the clock from Jan. 6 through the 9th. On the evening of the 9th, he took his life at our home,” Liebengood’s wife, Serena Liebengood, wrote to Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.).

Liebengood, like many other officers that day, was just doing his job. But then that job became too much to process, because suicide is what happens when trauma wins. It’s what happens when a calamity goes unprocessed. It’s what happens when pushing it all down stops working. Once the gate is opened, putting the fox back in the cage becomes almost impossible.

“This didn’t just happen Jan. 6,” Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn said. “Jan. 6 just exposed a divide that this country has, and how do you fix that?”

Dunn gained unwanted attention after his emotional testimony during a House select committee hearing. With the anniversary here, he says he’s gotten about 80 messages from news outlets that want to talk with him about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. But he says he doesn’t mind speaking out about what happened on that day he will never forget because it’s serving a dual purpose.

“We are in a rough place right now. Where we are right now, we are hurting,” Dunn said about himself and his fellow officers, but he could have just as easily been talking about America. “So many people process grief different, which includes keeping it inside.” He pauses for a second and then says, “It’s why I talk so much, because it helps me.”

If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.

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