When Donald Trump pleaded not guilty after being arrested and arraigned on Thursday for conspiring to overturn the 2020 presidential election, among those present in the courthouse was Aquilino Gonell.
A US Capitol police officer, Mr Gonell resigned in December last year as he sought to continue recovering both “physically and mentally” from the trauma of the Jan 6 insurrection that occurred in 2021.
“Our Democracy is worth fighting for,” the retired officer injured in the Capitol riot wrote on X (formerly Twitter) soon after the proceeding.
“Not prosecuting is far riskier than having no consequences for the alleged power grab attempts. Justice and the rule of law must win for our democracy to survive,” he said of the former president who was indicted Monday on four charges as part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the alleged conspiracy surrounding the events from 6 Jan Capitol riot.
Describing the incident, he wrote, “[As] Capitol Police sergeant, I found myself defending everything I sacrificed, and our very own democracy when it was threatened by an all out assault by a mob.”
“As an American, the events on January 6 were shocking,” he said. “I was attacked by more than 50 people (one way or another) that I know of. I have given testimony to the congressional committee, investigators, prosecutors and the court.”
He had earlier last year, while providing testimony before Congress, compared the experience of being at the Capitol on that day to his experience in Iraq with the US Army.
“On January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid working at the Capitol than during my entire Army deployment to Iraq,” he had said in prepared remarks. “In Iraq, we expected armed violence, because we were in a war zone. But nothing in my experience in the Army, or as a law enforcement officer, prepared me for what we confronted on Jan 6.”
He told legislators how he was punched, pushed, kicked, shoved, sprayed with chemical irritants and “blinded with eye-damaging lasers” – injuries that required multiple surgeries and a six-month medical leave.
In a poetic twist of fate, Mr Trump’s latest arraignment brought him to the exact same courthouse where hundreds of people have been tried, convicted and sentenced to terms in prison as long as 18 years for charges in connection with the Jan 6 insurrection.
Mr Trump, the man Liz Cheney once credited with having “assembled” and “summoned” members of the mob, is now the latest defendant among them.
Mr Gonell was present in court along with two other police officers – Daniel Hodges and Harry Dunn – who defended the Capitol that day. They watched the former president’s arraignment from inside the court.
Taking stock of the location’s symbolism where Mr Trump was produced, Mr Gonell said: “The same court in which hundreds of rioters have been sentenced. It’s the same court former President Trump is being arraigned in today for his alleged involvement before, during, and after the siege.”
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