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Former Capitol police officer testifies about launching pepper balls at accused Jan. 6 rioter

Former U.S. Capitol Police Officer Shauni Kerkhoff told jurors that the estimated 30 to 40 pepper balls she launched at Reffitt "didn't affect his behavior."

WASHINGTON (CN) — A former U.S. Capitol Police officer testified Wednesday about how she repeatedly launched pepper balls at a Texas man in an attempt to stop him from leading a mob toward the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

“Every time he took a step, they took a step,” Shauni Kerkhoff told jurors. “It was becoming a dire situation.”

Kerkhoff is the government’s first witness in its case against Guy Reffitt, the first Capitol riot defendant to go to trial. He is accused of charging at police with a gun holstered on his waist during the riot.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Kerkhoff told the jury that she confronted Reffitt when he climbed onto a banister on the west side of the Capitol. After repeatedly ignoring her commands to back up, Kerkhoff says she launched “maybe 30-40” pepper balls at him.

“It didn’t affect his behavior,” she said, adding that he appeared to be wearing a lot of clothes.

Prosecutors played audio of Kerkhoff radioing to other Capitol police for help, saying someone — whom she identified in court as Reffitt — was breaching the west terrace. 

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Nestler asked how she felt at the time, Kerkhoff said she was “panicked.”

Reffitt, she said, only retreated when a fellow officer sprayed him with pepper spray. 

Asked why she did not use her service weapon, Kerkhoff said she thought people in the crowd were armed and was “afraid there would be a shootout.” She noted that she did not see a weapon holstered on Reffitt’s hip.

The government also showed various photos and videos allegedly showing Reffitt using a megaphone and gesturing for the crowd to come up the Capitol steps.

During cross-examination, Kerkhoff deflected further inquiry about not using the service weapon from Reffitt’s court-appointed attorney William Welch, telling him it is hard to explain the decision after the fact.

Welch signaled in his opening statements that he hopes to highlight the short amount of time Reffitt engaged in the alleged crimes.

He asked Kerkhoff if their confrontation lasted about five to ten minutes, to which she replied that she could not recall, but that it “seemed a lot longer” than that.

Welch also repeatedly asked her to confirm that she did not see Reffitt inside the Capitol — another point he seemingly wants jurors to heavily consider.

The government also called a second witness to the stand, U.S. Capitol Police Inspector Monique Moore.

Nestler began questioning Moore about her actions on the day of the riot. Moore said she was working in the command center and that she and her colleagues had never seen such a “total disregard” of police and the law.

She said she was in “disbelief” by the “overwhelming” crowd and was scrambling to coordinate resources for officers.

“It was hard to hear officers screaming for help,” Moore said, speaking through tears.

Nestler is slated to resume questioning Moore on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee, is presiding over the trial.

In the coming days, prosecutors are planning to call more witnesses, including a U.S. Secret Service agent, Reffitt’s son and daughter, as well as a fellow militia member who traveled with him to the Capitol during the week of the riot.

Reffitt has pleaded not guilty to the five charges against him: obstruction of an official proceeding, being unlawfully present on Capitol grounds while armed with a firearm, transporting firearms during a civil disorder, interfering with law enforcement officers during a civil disorder and obstruction of justice.

He is among more than 750 people who have been charged so far in connection with the Capitol attack.

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