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U.S. Capitol Police rejected offers of federal help to stop pro-Trump rioters

Police chief says he will step down, effective next week

Posted: January 07, 2021
Last Updated: January 07, 2021

Supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier Wednesday at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Both Democrat and Republican lawmakers have pledged to investigate actions of law enforcement and questioned whether a lack of preparedness allowed a mob to infiltrate and vandalize the building. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)

Three days before supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump rioted at the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon asked the Capitol Police if it needed National Guard manpower. And as the mob descended on the building Wednesday, Justice Department leaders reached out to offer up FBI agents. The police turned them down both times, according to a defence official and two people familiar with the matter.

Despite plenty of warnings of a possible insurrection and ample resources and time to prepare, the Capitol Police planned only for a free speech demonstration.

Still stinging from the uproar over the violent response by law enforcement to protests last June near the White House, officials also were intent on avoiding any appearance that the federal government was deploying active duty or National Guard troops against Americans.

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The result is the U.S. Capitol was overrun Wednesday and officers in a law enforcement agency with a large operating budget and experience in high-security events protecting lawmakers were overwhelmed for the world to see. Four protesters died, including one who was shot inside the building.

WATCH | How Wednesday's events at the U.S. Capitol unfolded:

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CBC News’ David Common breaks down what happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and how U.S. President Donald Trump stoked discontent among his supporters before he lost the election.  3:44

The rioting and loss of control has raised serious questions over security at the Capitol for future events. The actions of the day also raise troubling concerns about the treatment of mainly white Trump supporters who were allowed to roam through the building for hours while Black and brown protesters who demonstrated last year over police brutality were faced with more robust and aggressive policing.

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, under pressure from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders, was forced to resign. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asked for and received the resignation of the sergeant-at-arms of the Senate, Michael Stenger, effective immediately. The sergeant-at-arms of the House was also expected to be removed.

"There was a failure of leadership at the top," Pelosi said.

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The U.S. Capitol had been closed to the public since March because of the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 350,000 Americans. But normally, the building is open to the public and lawmakers pride themselves on their availability to their constituents.

2,300 officers

It is not clear how many officers were on duty Wednesday, but the complex is policed by a total of 2,300 officers for 16 acres of ground, about six and a half hectares, who protect the 435 House representatives, 100 U.S. Senators and their staff. By comparison, the city of Minneapolis has about 840 uniformed officers policing a population of 425,000 in a 6,000-acre area.

There were signs for weeks that violence could strike on Jan. 6, when Congress convened for a joint session to finish counting the electoral college votes that would confirm Democrat Joe Biden had won the presidential election.

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Four people died, according to the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, including one woman who was shot by police while storming inside the building with other rioters. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images)

On far-right message boards and in pro-Trump circles, plans were being made.

The leader of the far-right extremist-group Proud Boys was arrested coming into the nation's capital this week on a weapons charge for carrying empty high-capacity magazines emblazoned with the group's logo. He admitted to police that he made statements about rioting in the District of Columbia, local officials said.

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'Was there a lack of urgency?'

Both Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo and Ed Davis, a former Boston Police commissioner who led the department during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, said they did not fault the responses of clearly overmatched front-line officers but the planning and leadership before the riot.

"Was there a structural feeling that well, these are a bunch of conservatives, they're not going to do anything like this? Quite possibly," Davis said. "That's where the racial component to this comes into play in my mind. Was there a lack of urgency or a sense that this could never happen with this crowd? Is that possible? Absolutely."

Trump and his allies were perhaps the biggest megaphones, encouraging protesters to turn out in force and support his false claim that the election had been stolen from him. He egged them on during a rally shortly before they marched to the Capitol and rioted. His personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a former New York mayor known for his tough-on-crime stance, called for "trial by combat."

But the Capitol Police had set up no hard perimeter around the Capitol. Officers were focused on one side where lawmakers were entering to vote to certify Biden's win.

Chief defends officers

Barricades on the plaza to the building were set up, but police retreated from the line and a mob of people broke through. Lawmakers, at first unaware of the security breach, continued their debate. Soon they were cowering under chairs. Eventually, they were escorted from the House and Senate. Journalists were left alone in rooms for hours as the mob attempted to break into barricaded rooms.

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Pro-Trump rioters climb the west wall of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

Justice officials, FBI and other agencies began to monitor hotels, flights and social media for weeks and were expecting massive crowds. Mayor Muriel Bowser had warned of impending violence for weeks, and businesses had closed in anticipation. She requested National Guard help from the Pentagon on Dec. 31, but the Capitol Police turned down the Jan. 3 offer from the Defence Department, according to Kenneth Rapuano, assistant defence secretary for homeland security.

The Justice Department's offer for FBI support as the protesters grew violent was rejected by the Capitol Police, according to the two people familiar with the matter. They were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.

By then, it was too late.

Only 13 arrested at the time

Officers from the Metropolitan Police Department descended. Agents from nearly every Justice Department agency, including the FBI, were called in. So was the Secret Service and the Federal Protective Service. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent two tactical teams. Police from as far away as New Jersey arrived to help.

It took four hours to disperse the protesters from the Capitol complex. By then, they had roamed the halls of Congress, posed for photos inside hallowed chambers, broken through doors, destroyed property and taken photos of themselves doing it. Only 13 were arrested at the time, scores were arrested later.

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An explosion caused by a police munition is seen while supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. Congress had been meeting to ratify president-elect Joe Biden's 306-232 electoral college win over Trump. (Leah Millis/Reuters)
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Police officers in riot gear monitor protesters gathered at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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Paramedics perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on an injured woman on Jan. 6 in Washington. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
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Earlier on Jan. 6, supporters of Trump try to break through a police barrier at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)
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Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as they push barricades to storm the U.S. Capitol. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)
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Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Julio Cortez/The Associated Press)
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Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)
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Supporters of Trump climb the west wall of the the U.S. Capitol. (Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)
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Trump supporters protest inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. In the wake of that historic incident, there are swift calls to curb inflammatory online speech. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)
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U.S. Capitol Police detain protesters outside of the House chamber during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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U.S. Capitol Police point their guns at a door that was vandalized in the House chamber during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)
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Protesters interact with Capitol Police inside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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A protester sits inside the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi inside the Capitol on Jan. 6. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)
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Members of Congress run for cover as protesters try to enter the House chamber during the joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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People shelter in the House gallery as protesters try to break into the House chamber. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)
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A protester holds a Trump flag inside the U.S. Capitol building near the Senate chamber on Jan. 6. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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A protester sits in the Senate chamber on Jan. 6. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Trump supporters, one holding a Confederate flag, are seen outside the Senate chambers after breaching Capitol security on Jan. 6. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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A protester is seen hanging from the balcony in the Senate chamber. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Before the breach by protesters, Speaker Pelosi and Vice-President Mike Pence presided over the electoral college vote certification for Biden, during a joint session of Congress on Jan. 6. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
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A crowd of Trump supporters gathered outside as seen from inside the U.S. Capitol. ( Cheriss May/Getty Images)
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A Trump supporter is seen outside the Capitol following a Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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Protesters gather outside the U.S. Capitol building on Jan. 6 in Washington, D.C., during the joint session of Congress to ratify Biden's 306-232 electoral college win over Trump. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
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People march with those who claim they are members of the Proud Boys as they attend a rally in Washington on Jan. 6 in support of Trump. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)
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Supporters march with those who claim they are members of the Proud Boys as they attend the rally. (Carolyn Kaster/The Associated Press)

In the aftermath, a two-metre fence will go up around the Capitol grounds for at least 30 days. The Capitol Police will conduct a review of the carnage, as well as their planning and policies. Lawmakers plan to investigate how authorities handled the rioting.

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The acting U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, said the failure to arrest more people is making their jobs harder.

"Look, we have to now go through cell site orders, collect video footage to try to identify people and then charge them, and then try to execute their arrest," he said.

"So that has made things challenging, but I can't answer why those people weren't zip-tied as they were leaving the building by the Capitol Police."

With files from Ben Fox, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor and Ashraf Khalil