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Capitol Police officer recounts panic amid Jan. 6 riot

Jurors in the Proud Boys trial heard about one officer's panic as a mob overran the seat of the U.S. government after the 2020 election.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The officer's voice sounded frantic, sounding an alarm from the west facade of the Capitol building where rioters had just made their way through the barriers.

“Units for Peace Circle … individuals broke the line."

Those words propelled U.S. Capitol Police Officer Shae Coomey to run from her post on the east front of the building to the upper west terrace on Jan. 6, 2021.

“The panic I heard on the radio justified me getting there as fast as possible,” said Coomey, who took the stand Thursday in the seditious conspiracy trial of five members of the far-right Proud Boys.

Pointing to a map of the Capitol grounds that prosecutors had propped up behind her on poster board, Coomey said that, by the time she arrived at the west front, a large group of people were making their way up to the Pennsylvania Avenue area walkway after having breached barriers made up of police bicycle racks near First Street.

It was concerning, she said, because the bike-rack barriers were in place to section off a restricted area. Congress had been conducting a ceremony at the time to certify the 2020 electoral college results, and entering that area without government authorization is an arrestable offense.

“We take it a little bit more seriously during that time,” Coomey explained, “and no one is allowed to be back there.”

Coomey said the crowd made their way up Pennsylvania Avenue area, eventually reaching a black fence that was put in place for the upcoming Jan. 20 presidential inauguration events. It “stopped them for a short time,” she noted.

Prosecutors played several videos of the crowd during the direct examination of Coomey.

Recounting how she compared the size of the crowd to how many officers were in place, the witness said, "a little panic came through ... We knew that we weren’t going to have enough.”

That panic paralyzed her, the officer confirmed — “for a second, yes” — but then Coomey went down the stairs to meet up with other officers to stand in a line that would shield the building.

Coomey identified herself in a video standing alongside other officers on the Senate side of the lower west terrace. She recalled the angry demeanor of the crowd. There was a lot of yelling, chanting, cursing, she said, and people were “screaming at us because we were there and stopping them from coming forward.”

Members at the front of the crowd were agitating the rest, she said, screaming things like, “Trump,” “USA,” “Trump MAGA,” and calling officers names like “pigs” and “traitors."

Asked if all members of the crowd were concerning, the witness said there were two of particular concern: an individual wearing a black baseball cap and another wearing a plaid shirt.

“They were pulling [the fence] backwards and opening up the fence,” she said.

In one video scene, she said it appears the man wearing a black baseball cap had a part of the fence, that had been broken off, in his hands.

The prosecutor and the witness did not identify the two individuals by name during direct examination. But defense attorney David Smith, who represents Ethan Nordean, asked a series of questions about the person in the black ball cap and whether he was among the front-line agitators yelling “pigs” or “traitors.”

The officer said he was and she remembers “because it was one of the first words that were said to me that day.”

Asked how she knows it was indeed him and not some other person in a black cap, she said it was because “he looked right at me.”

The witness also conceded that in one video it appears the person in the black cap attempted to stop another crowd member from pushing an officer. She said she did not see him throw any fence pieces or water bottles or use a flagpole or baseball bat, like some others in the crowd did. The defense attorney also attempted to establish through questioning that the man did not have a piece of the fence in his hand and that the object may have been a can.

It was not until cross examination by Dan Hull, who represents Joe Biggs, that it was suggested to the jury that the two individuals are defendants Biggs and Nordean. Biggs is a self-described Proud Boys organizer from Ormond Beach, Florida, and Nordean, a self-described Proud Boys sergeant-at-arms from Auburn, Washington.

Coomey agreed when the lawyer asked if it is her testimony that Biggs and Nordean were involved in breaking the fence.

Prosecutors called the officer as their eighth witness. Proceedings on Thursday also included testimony from FBI special agents Elizabeth DeAngelo and Anne Borgertpoepping.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Kelly, a Trump appointee, said the jury will not return until Tuesday so he can work out evidentiary disputes over various messages between the defendants on the social media network Telegram.

Standing trial alongside Nordean are Biggs are Enrique Tarrio, who is the leader of the Proud Boys; Zachary Rehl, former president of the Proud Boys chapter in Philadelphia; and Dominic Pezzola, a member of the chapter in Rochester, New York.

In addition to seditious conspiracy, which carries a 20-year maximum prison sentence, the defendants all face one count of conspiracy to prevent an officer from discharging any duties. Pezzola faces a robbery charge. All have pleaded not guilty.

The government has so far charged approximately 950 people in connection with the Capitol riot. As of Jan. 6, about 364 people had pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and about 119 had pleaded guilty to felonies. Approximately 192 people have been sentenced to prison time.  

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