WASHINGTON — A veteran of the Iraq war, Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell suffered severe injuries to his feet, legs, hands and shoulders on January 6th, 2021.
"That entrance where no rioters were able to come in. We held the line at that entrance," said Sgt. Gonell. "Putting our bodies bleeding, sweating and even crying tears that day because we were attacked. It was a horrific, mid-evil battle."
Nearly a year and half later, on the day I spoke to Sgt. Gonell, he had just been discharged by his physical therapist.
"Not 100 percent yet. I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent.," he said.
Sgt. Gonell does not believe he will ever be able to resume unrestricted duty status as a Capitol Police officer. His future as a law enforcement agent -- one who wore a uniform and patrolled the Capitol grounds on a mountain bike -- is very much in doubt.
"I have reached maximum recovery on my injuries, but this is going to be with me the rest of my life," he said. "Some limitations, especially on my shoulder. Those injuries prevent me from fully having certain motions in my arm so unfortunately that's something I'll have to learn how to live with and make the most of it."
He recalls fondly the time pre-January 6th when, from his northern Virginia home, he was able to fully engage with his family.
"Before January 6th I was able to stay fit. I was able to play basketball a lot with my son and coach him," said Sgt. Gonell. "I used to use that as a coping mechanism from my stress, my PTSD from the military and also to spend time with my son."
"The therapist told me today I should be able to do things like that. But I have to learn what is my limit and not to over exceed it because I'm still injured."
Sgt. Gonell has been closely watching the House Select Committee hearings on January 6th. He was present in person at the first hearing but did not attend Monday's hearing due to his son's graduation. He had strong words for those who invaded the Capitol and assaulted police on January 6th, 2021. He believes the punishments for some of those convicted and sentenced may not have been harsh enough to deter people from coming back to Washington and doing it again.
The January 6th committee has singled out former President Trump as, essentially, the match that lit the flame of violence on January 6th. Sgt. Gonell agrees.
"I do hold him (Trump) accountable. By his own oath he was supposed to come to help and defend the Capitol and he didn't do that. He was allegedly happy and boasting about it," said Sgt. Gonell. "He knew what he was doing were false claims. He was seeing the violence that happened on his behalf despite people in his inner circle telling him 'you lost.'"
Sgt Gonell believes former President Trump was not the only person in power who's actions and inaction contributed to the chaos of January 6th.
"There has been a plethora of evidence suggesting that some of these people in a position of public trust took part in this scheme to try and defraud the American people. To the level of almost being criminal," said Sgt Gonell. "If that's the case, the Department of Justice is duty bound to do so (bring criminal charges). I almost lost my life protecting those members who did not fulfill their oath of office."
Attempts to minimize the carnage and impact of January 6th get under Sgt. Gonell's skin.
"It's pathetic, its disingenuous. They're fighting for people who assaulted police officers. Publicly, they say we support the police, we are pro law and order. We are pro rule of law. No they are not," said Sgt. Gonell.
It's unclear right now what the end result and work product of the January 6th Committee will be. Sgt. Gonell is hopeful whatever comes from the hearings will help prevent an assault on the Capitol from ever happening again.
"I think we can learn from what happened. Certainly the Capitol Police have tried to learn and include some of the training and responses," said Sgt. Gonell. "I hope we continue to get resources. I hope we get all the training to remain proficient. Also, I hope the American people learn how to prevent this from happening. Both politically and through the courts."
Although Sgt. Gonell has made multiple media appearances, he feels the full and complete story of January 6th still needs to be told. He's working on writing a book titled 'American Treason'.
"It's going to tell my story from my view as an immigrant, an immigrant police officer and an immigrant Army Sergeant moving up in the ranks," said Sgt. Gonell. "My initial arrival here in the United States was a struggle. It was very hard. Leading all the way to January 6th, January 6th brought a great deal of stress and hardship for me the past year and a half. Just because I'm being discharged from my doctor and the just because these hearings are happening does not mean I'm fully healed."
"I think the book will allow me to go into more detail about what happened to me and the actions I took to prevent the people from overrunning the Capitol especially at that entrance where no rioters were able to come in," said Sgt. Gonell. "I think the book will allow me to express that and let the American people know what actually happened."