A US Capitol Police captain testified Tuesday about the “devastating” Jan. 6 riot in Washington, DC that left her with both physical and emotional wounds that linger more than a month later, including chemical burns to her face.
Testifying before a Senate panel on the deadly insurrection, Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, a department veteran of nearly 19 years, recalled the hellish battle against violent supporters of then-President Donald Trump, who stormed the Capitol in a bid to prevent the certification of the 2020 election results.
Mendoza, who had already planned on starting her Jan. 6 tour at 3 p.m. to work a 16-hour shift, was home with her son when she received a desperate call for help at 1:30 p.m.
“I was at home eating with my 10-year-old, spending time with him before what I knew would likely be a long day, when a fellow captain contacted me and told me things were bad, and that I needed to respond in,” testified Mendoza, according to her prepared remarks. “I literally dropped everything to respond in to work a bit early.”
Fifteen minutes later, Mendoza arrived at the Capitol to find a scene of utter mayhem.
While responding to a bomb found outside the nearby headquarters of the Democratic National Committee, Mendoza heard that the Rotunda had been breached, and peeled off to calls for help from fellow cops inside.
“Once inside the Memorial Door, I immediately noticed a large crowd of possibly 200 rioters yelling in front of me,” recalled Mendoza. “Since I was alone, I turned to go back out so I could enter through another door, but within the few seconds it took to walk back to the door I entered, there were already countless rioters outside banging on the door.
Surrounded and alone, Mendoza “had no choice” but to wade through the “violent” throng, she recalled.
“I made my way through the crowd by yelling and pushing people out of my way until I saw Capitol Police Civil Disturbance Units in riot gear holding a line in the hallway, to keep rioters from penetrating deeper into the building,” testified Mendoza, who tried to help them hold back the onslaught.
“At some point, my right arm got wedged between the rioters and railing along the wall,” recalled Mendoza. “A CDU sergeant pulled my arm free and, had he not, I’m certain it would have been broken.”
The outnumbered cops were eventually overpowered, sending them scrambling to block off sensitive areas deeper within the Capitol.
“I proceeded to the Rotunda where I noticed a heavy smoke-like residue and smelled what I believed to be military-grade CS gas — a familiar smell,” noted the US Army veteran. “The rioters continued to deploy CS inside the Rotunda.
“Officers received a lot of gas exposure, which is a lot worse inside the building versus outside, because there’s nowhere for it go,” she continued. “I received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day.”
Mendoza assumed command inside the Rotunda, leading officers on a non-stop, hours-long battle to eject the insurrectionists.
“After a couple of hours, the officers were able to clear the Rotunda, but had to physically hold the door closed because it had been broken by the rioters,” she recalled. “Officers begged me for relief as they were unsure of how long they could physically hold the door with the crowd continually banging on the door attempting to regain entry.
“I’m proud of the officers I worked with on January 6. They fought extremely hard,” she added. “I know some said the battle lasted three hours, but according to my Fitbit, I was in the exercise zone for 4 hours and 9 minutes, and many officers were in the fight before I even arrived.”
The riot left five people dead including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick — who had been bludgeoned with a fire extinguisher — and several more officers injured, among them Mendoza.
“The night of January 7 into the very early morning hours of my birthday, January 8, I spent at the hospital comforting the family of our fallen officer and met with the medical examiner’s office, prior to working with fellow officers to facilitate a motorcade to transport Officer Sicknick from the hospital,” said Mendoza.
“As an American and an Army veteran, it’s sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens,” she continued. “Although things are still raw, and moving forward will be a difficult process, I look forward to healing and moving forward together as an agency and as a country.”
Despite concerns that the department was woefully understaffed for the unrest, Mendoza argued that there was little that could have been done in the face of the invasion.
“Of the multitude of events I’ve worked in my nearly 19-year career on the Department, this was by far the worst of the worst,” she said.
“We could have had 10 times the amount of people working with us and I still believe this battle would have been just as devastating.”