A captain in the US Capitol Police force who responded to the 6 January Capitol riot offered a harrowing first-hand account on Tuesday of her experience battling white supremacists and other pro-Trump elements.
Captain Carneysha Mendoza told senators at the first official hearing on the security breach that rioters nearly broke her arm amid the chaos. She and her fellow officers were gassed. Many were struck with blunt objects and beaten to the ground.
“I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day,” Ms Mendoza said.
The USCP captain, a veteran of the US Army, repeatedly referred to the riot as a “battle.”
“We could have had 10-times the amount of people working with us, and I still believe the battle would have been just as devastating,” she said, a testament to just how overwhelmed officers were as it took hours for the National Guard and supplemental police forces to arrive.
The Senate heard testimony on Tuesday from four security officials on Capitol Hill who oversaw the response to the riot, as lawmakers seek answers on what went wrong leading up to and during the attack.
The four panelists testifying before the Senate Rules and Homeland Security Committees were Metropolitan Police Acting Chief Robert Contee, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger, and former US Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund.
Tuesday’s hearing is the first in a series of expected oversight efforts in Washington to identify intel-gathering failures leading up to the security breach at the Capitol.
“This is certainly not the last hearing that we will have regarding this attack. Next week we will hear from witnesses from federal agencies including the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense,” said Senate Rules Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar.
But before the four panelists delivered their opening statements, Ms Klobuchar invited Ms Mendoza to tell her story, which demonstrated just how violent the mob attack was.
Around 1.30pm, the captain was at home eating lunch with her 10-year-old son when she received a call from a colleague asking her to come in early. She had been scheduled to work a 16-hour shift beginning at 3pm.
“I literally dropped everything to respond to work that day early,” she said.
On her 15-minute walk to work, the dispatch officer informed her there were six active scenes, including multiple confrontations outside the Capitol and explosive devices that had been found outside both the Democratic and Republican National Committee buildings nearby.
Ms Mendoza decided she would assist at the DNC bomb scene since that was the closest one to her current location, but when she overheard officers on the radio calling for “immediate” assistance at the Capitol, she hurried past the DNC to the legislature.
By the time she rushed past the crowd on the East plaza and entered the building with the help of another officer, dozens of rioters had already breached the first-floor Rotunda underneath which the iconic Capitol dome sits.
She hopped in line with other officers to keep other rioters from “penetrating deeper into the building” via the hallways.
“At some point, my right arm got wedged between rioters and the railing along the wall,” she testified on Tuesday.
A sergeant pulled her arm free from the crushing weight.
“Had he not, I'm certain it would have been broken,” Ms Mendoza said.
The rioters eventually overpowered Ms Mendoza’s line, sending officers scattering to other parts of the building to hold off further intrusions.
She proceeded to the Rotunda, where she noticed a “heavy smoke-like residue” and scented what she believed was a military grade tear gas, “a familiar smell,” she said.
The tear gas mixed with mist from the foamy white fire extinguisher spray rioters had deployed, creating a noxious fog that exposed several dozen people in the Rotunda to choking and burning sensations. That’s when Ms Mendoza felt the chemical burns that scorched her face.
The Rotunda was a full-on battle between rioters and police officers.
“I witnessed officers being knocked to the ground and hit with various objects that were thrown by rioters,” she said, though she never determined what those objects were.
As captain, Ms Mendoza “assumed command” of the officers on the scene and called for backup.
After “a couple hours” officers had succeeded in clearing the Rotunda of the mob.
But with rabid rioters still banging on the door from the outside and pushing to get in, officers had to brace themselves against it for several minutes longer.
“Officers begged me for relief, as they were unsure how long they could physically hold the door closed with the crowd continually banging on the outside of the door, attempting to gain reentry. Eventually officers were able to secure the door with furniture and other objects,” Ms Mendoza said.
While it has been widely reported by both lawmakers and in the media that the attack lasted for roughly three hours, Ms Mendoza had noticed at the time that her Fitbit showed she had been in the “exercise zone” for four hours and nine minutes.
“As an American, and as an army veteran, it's sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens. I'm sad to see the unnecessary loss of life. I'm sad to see the impact this has had on Capitol Police officers. And I'm sad to see the impact this has had on our agency and on our country,” Ms Mendoza said.
More than 250 people have been charged so far for their roles in the Capitol riot. Donald Trump was impeached for inciting the bloody insurrection in which five people were killed. The Senate voted him guilty, 57-43, with seven Republicans voting with all 50 Democrats and Democratic-caucusing Independents. That result fell 10 votes shy of the two-thirds threshold for conviction, which would have disqualified Mr Trump from ever holding future office.