Just minutes after misfired tear gas canisters drove police back into the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, the retreating officers left unsecured the sets of double doors in the Lower West Terrace tunnel, giving protesters easy access to the entrance and sparking several hours of brutal violence, videos reveal.
Cell phone video entered into evidence in a recent Jan. 6 criminal case shows that protesters walked right through the sets of double doors at the back of the tunnel and began fighting against the police for access to the rest of the Capitol.
For months, questions have been raised by defense attorneys and case observers whether the doors at the tunnel entrance were locked and secure. Prosecutors contended in court filings that the doors were locked when the last officers retreated into the Capitol at about 2:40 p.m.
However, two videos that were entered into evidence by the U.S. Department of Justice in Jan. 6 criminal cases show that neither set of doors was secured. All protesters had to do was pull on the outer handles to gain entry.
The police retreat into the Capitol became necessary when police lines on the ground level of the west front of the Capitol collapsed in two key areas starting at about 2:25 p.m.
The first break in the line came after Metropolitan Police Department Officer Daniel Thau told MPD Officer Rich Khoury to fire a gas projectile.
“Hey Rich, put it up in the [expletive] scaffolding,” Thau said, according to his bodycam. “Fire it up in the air, Rich, over there. Just [expletive] shoot!”
Khoury’s shot misfired and the gas round landed right in the middle of a gathering of MPD supervisors. The smoking payload sent everyone scrambling for fresh air and left a gap in the police line.
‘We Can’t Stop Them’
Thau retreated up the stairs under the scaffolding, where he spoke briefly with MPD’s commander, Jason Bagshaw.
“We’re going to have to make a tactical disadvantaged move out here, or we’re going to get people seriously [expletive] hurt man,” Thau said.
“We got 20,000 people out there. We can’t stop them. We need to make a [expletive] decision. We don’t need to get our people [expletive] killed, man.”
Just before 2:36 p.m., MPD Officer Anthony Alioto tossed a silver gas canister from the Lower West Terrace into the crowd below. Someone picked up the smoking object and threw it back, flooding the Lower West Terrace with tear gas. That accelerated the police retreat into the Capitol.
Capitol security camera video shows a steady stream of mostly MPD officers heading into the building from the Lower West Terrace. As the last officers moved through the doorway, one of them fired rubber bullets at several advancing protesters, but that did little to deter them.
As protesters began banging on the outer doors, an MPD officer held open an inside door and asked a colleague to take a video. “That’s a federal crime,” he said, pointing to the crowd outside.
Moments later, a rioter appeared to use some type of glass punch or another tool to shatter the glass in the upper corner of one outer door. That was followed by a flagpole being jammed through the glass, sending shards raining on the floor.
A video posted to Instagram by Jan. 6 defendant Geoffrey Sills, 31, and used in his criminal case, shows a rioter in front of the doors simply pulling on the outer handle to open the left-side door.
The first person to step over the threshold was David Mehaffie, 63, who walked to the inner set of doors and opened the right side. Sills and Mehaffie were recently sentenced to 52 months and 14 months in prison, respectively, on various Jan. 6 charges.
Tunnel Had Worst Violence
The easy defeat of the tunnel doors led to more than two hours of the worst violence recorded at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
It led to the death of Rosanne Boyland, 34, who was trampled by the crowd after police deployed gas in the tunnel, and was later beaten by an MPD officer armed with a walking stick.
The tunnel was also where Jan. 6 defendant Victoria White was beaten by Bagshaw and other officers with expandable steel batons and fists.
The first people to confront the police line after Mehaffie opened the inner door used flagpoles to stab at officers, who blocked the inner hallway with shields.
One protester, possibly Mehaffie, shouted, “Don’t hurt the police! Don’t hurt the police! Don’t hurt the police! Don’t hurt them!”
Heavy use of pepper spray on both sides of the police line incapacitated numerous police and protesters.
John Steven Anderson, an asthma sufferer, begged police to call for medical help as he hung halfway through an outer glass door.
“I can’t breathe,” Anderson said just after 3 p.m. “I can’t breathe, I’m collapsing. I’ve got asthma. I’ve got asthma.”
Metro PD Officer William Bogner repeatedly tried to get protesters to cooperate so they could tend to Anderson.
“Back up so we can get this man some help,” Bogner said, according to bodycam video. “Back up, we’ll get him an ambulance.”
A protester shouted, “Either [inaudible] let him through, or he doesn’t get an ambulance,” to which Bogner replied, “You’re a bad human being.”
As police pulled Anderson through the upper section of the door, he said, “I’m gonna die.”
Anderson, a Marine Corps veteran, was later charged with attacking police, something he vehemently denied.
“I didn’t attack any officers. I didn’t hurt anyone,” Anderson said, according to a 2021 statement from his attorney, Marina Medvin.
“Someone sprayed me, I couldn’t breathe and I begged the officers for help. And I thank God every day that they helped me. They saved my life.”
Anderson died in September 2021 while awaiting trial. He was 61.
In March 2023, Anderson was incorrectly identified by an online sleuth as an undercover police officer. Medvin quickly secured a retraction of that claim.