In the battle for the West Terrace tunnel near the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as a thunderous mob tried to force its way through a small opening, three police officers testified in federal court this week that Kyle Fitzsimons was pushing his way forward. had pushed the line and attacked them. All three also said they feared they were about to die in the hour-long attack.
Sergeant Phuson Nguyen, a 19-year veteran of the DC Police Department, said he… had already been hit once with some sort of chemical spray; he walked to the back of the tunnel and cleaned his eyes, then returned to the front line wearing a gas mask. Surveillance and police bodycam videos played in court showed Fitzsimons reaching out to pull off Nguyen’s mask, while another man sprayed what Nguyen thought was bear spray directly into his face. Then Fitzsimons released the mask on Nguyen’s face, trapping the chemical irritant in it, said the officer.
“At that point, I was suffocating under the mask,” Nguyen testified. “I was also knocked down at the same time. … In my head I thought this was it for me. I thought I would die there. … In my head I said to myself, ‘If you want to see your family again, you must gather yourself.’” He said he broke the seal on his mask and a colleague dragged him to safety.
After three days of testimony and dozens of videos and photos captured by Fitzsimons on the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6, the judge hearing the case decided Friday not to rule on six crimes, including assaulting police officers and obstructing an official procedure, and five violations. Instead, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said he would consider a defense motion to dismiss some charges first, and issue a ruling after Labor Day.
Fitzsimons, 38, of Lebanon, Maine, has been in prison since February and is currently in DC prison. He opted for a trial rather than a jury trial, and on Thursday chose not to testify in the case.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who has testified before Congress about his ordeal, said Fitzsimons grabbed his left arm and tried to pull him out of the tunnel as he leaned in the opposite direction, video showing the two men struggling. Pain shot through his left shoulder, “one of the worst pains I’ve felt in my life,” Gonell said. He said he had a partially torn rotator cuff and labrum, had surgery and is now facing a forced medical retirement from the Capitol Police.
DC Officer Sarah Beaver was also in the tunnel, after withdrawing from a previous lost skirmish on the edge of the Capitol. Video shows Fitzsimons swinging an uncocked archery bow, which he told a reporter he had brought to the district as a sign of peace, into the tunnel and hitting Beaver in the head. She was wearing a helmet and was unharmed, though staggered briefly. But as he spent hours in the small tunnel, Beaver said, “I couldn’t breathe and I was afraid I would die if I passed out.”
Fitzsimons’ attorney Natasha Taylor-Smith, a Philadelphia federal public defender, said video evidence did not clearly show Fitzsimons taking Nguyen’s gas mask or Gonell’s shield. She said Nguyen was “simply mistaken” about which rioter grabbed the mask, and that Fitzsimons was severely stunned by chemical spray coming from both sides when he allegedly chopped Gonell’s arm or shield.
Because the photo of a bloodied Fitzsimons was widely publicized, Taylor-Smith said, “it has become the January 6th sign.” She said he hadn’t brought weapons to the Capitol, although prosecutors considered his bow a weapon, and she criticized Gonell, saying he had written a book, conducted multiple interviews, and tried to capitalize on his experience. Gonell denied that.
While the assault and obstruction charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, federal sentencing guidelines suggest a possible range of 63 to 78 months in prison for Fitzsimons if convicted. The range can be as high as 87 to 108 months if Gonell’s shoulder injury is classified as “permanent.”
Fitzsimons made no attempt to hide his mistrust of the results of the 2020 election or his desire to be heard in Washington. In December 2020, he posted a request on the “Lebanon Maine Truth Seekers” Facebook page to host a caravan to DC on Jan. 6, the page’s administrator said. He has no customers.
Fitzsimons also left three voicemail messages for Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), Golden’s chief of staff testified, one of which began: “So what’s up with the election fraud?” Fitzsimons continued, according to the voicemail played in court: “I’m the 6th in DC. I don’t think I’ll see you there. Maybe I will. Maybe I will.”
When Fitzsimons returned to Maine after Jan. 6, he called to the Lebanon Select Board meeting and treated the board to his experience. “I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful revolution,” Fitzsimons said. He also gave an interview to the Rochester Voice, based in New Hampshire, and provided photos of himself in the Capitol, but failed to mention his hand-to-hand combat with the police, according to prosecutors.
Fitzsimons, a butcher by trade, told Harrison Thorp of the Voice that after attending President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, he went to his car and put on his white butcher’s coat, embroidered with his name. on the chest, along with his rubber apron and a fur coat. He also said he wore an unstrung bow “to signify his peaceful intentions.”
He was soon captured on video climbing the stage set up for Joe Biden’s upcoming inauguration and holding the bow. Fitzsimons was seen on video shouting “Freedom” before landing at the West Terrace tunnel. During his confrontation with Nguyen, the video shows an unidentified man reaching over Fitzsimons’ shoulder with a powerful spray and releasing it near Fitzsimons’ face. At the same time, a police officer also aimed spray at Fitzsimons, the officer’s bodycam video showed.
The encounter with Gonell occurred when he held his round shield with his left arm and leaned in to help someone else who had fallen. Gonell said that in his 16 years with the Capitol Police, he had never been involved in an altercation with a protester, during hundreds of demonstrations.
Another protester who attacked Gonell, Mark Ponder, slammed a post into the officer’s shield, shattering the post and shield. Gonell spoke during Ponder’s sentencing in July, when Ponder was sentenced to 63 months in prison.
Beaver said all kinds of police equipment had been taken from officers and then thrown back into the tunnel at the police. “I was hit with police weapons,” she said. “I saw a gun fly into the tunnel. fire extinguishers. I got a whole can of bear spray.”
After Fitzsimons wrestled with both Nguyen and Gonell, as a surveillance video showed, he got up and then ran into the line of officers waving his fists. He was quickly rejected. During that raid, prosecutors said, another rioter wielding a metal crutch struck Fitzsimons in the top of the head, opening the bloody wound, which took six staples to close.
Beaver and Gonell both said they thought their hours-long stand in the tunnel blocked the only way rioters could enter the Capitol, and only later learned that rioters had forced elsewhere.
“No one came through the West Terrace tunnel that day,” Beaver said. “We made sure that didn’t happen.”