One of the first witnesses in the Jan. 6 Committee hearings was a U.S. Capitol Police officer who described being sprayed in the face with an irritant brought by West Virginia resident George Tanios.
In the televised hearing, Caroline Edwards spoke of trying to hold off a crowd of surging protesters, being pushed back, falling and hitting her head against a Capitol step and blacking out. She said “adrenaline kicked in” and she then got up to support other officers, including Brian Sicknick, who later died.
“There weren’t many of us over there, and Officer Sicknick was behind me for most of the time, for about 30 to 45 minutes,” she said. “We were just doing the best we could. We were just grappling over bike racks and trying to hold them as much as possible.
“All of a sudden, I see movement to the left of me, and I turned and it was Officer Sicknick with his head in his hands. And he was ghostly pale, which, I figured at that point, he had been sprayed. And I was concerned. My cop alarm bells went off. Because if you get sprayed with pepper spray, you’re going to turn red. He turned just about as pale as this sheet of paper,” she said, holding up a sheet.
“So I looked to see what had hit him, what had happened, and that’s when I got hit as well.”
Sicknick later suffered two strokes and died.
Edwards watched as the Jan. 6 Committee played a clip of officers reacting to the tear gas in that moment.
Officer Caroline Edwards said she looked over at Officer Brian Sicknick during the riot and said he was "ghostly pain."
"If you get sprayed with pepper spray, you're going to turn red. He turned just about as pale as this piece of paper." pic.twitter.com/row6WGxTC9
— Norah O'Donnell ?? (@NorahODonnell) June 10, 2022
Tanios was not described by name during the hearing, nor was his alleged accomplice, Julian Khater.
Edwards and the effects of the pepperspray are described in federal court documents laying out charges against Tanios and Khater, longtime friends who traveled to the Capitol together that day.
Tanios is accused of obtaining the spray at a West Virginia sporting goods store and carrying it to the Capitol, and Khater is accused of spraying it at the officers, causing them to be injured and resulting in a distraction that enabled others to breach a bike rack barrier outside the Capitol.
Tanios, a Morgantown resident, has pleaded not guilty to this point. He is out of jail while preparing for an October trial.
As the rally turned chaotic, video evidence shows that Khater wanted the spray from the backpack that Tanios was carrying. He referred to bear spray, which was among the purchases, but wound up obtaining a smaller canister of pepper spray.
Lawyers for Tanios say a full conversation by the two men captured on video shows that he rejected Khater’s demand. “What’s more, Tanios argued against the use of spray on law enforcement,” his lawyers wrote.
Lawyers for Tanios say the full conversation, which included strong language, was this:
Khater: “Give me that bear shit.”
Tanios: “Oh my God…focus, focus.”
“Don’t do it, don’t do it, Julian.”
“Hold on, hold on, not yet, it’s still early”
Khater: “Gimme that. Give it to me”
Tanios: “Listen, listen.”
Khater: “They just fucking sprayed me!”
Tanios: “No, it’s not about [that]”
Charging documents in their case describe the effects of the spray on officers, including Sicknick and Edwards.
“Edwards can be seen bent over in distress from the spray and requiring assistance to walk away,” federal prosecutors wrote in a caption accompanying a photograph in one court document.
Edwards reacts to her injury here near the bike rack barriers that were being pushed aside by protesters pic.twitter.com/ZuscnhpmwG
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) June 9, 2022
A mob storming the U.S. Capitol that day disrupted the constitutional duty of counting Electoral College votes and prompted the evacuations of representatives, senators and Vice President Mike Pence. One woman was fatally shot while trying to climb into the chambers, three others died from “medical emergencies” and more than 100 police officers were injured.
Of the thousands of protesters in Washington, D.C., that day, about 800 went into the Capitol, police have said.
Edwards’ testimony before the Jan. 6 Committee also indicated she was among officers confronted by a group of right-wing Proud Boys that included West Virginia resident Jeffery Finley.
Finley, a Martinsburg resident, has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of entering a restricted building because he was among the crowd surging into the U.S. Capitol. His sentencing hearing is set for 2 p.m. July 19 in federal court in Washington, D.C. Finley has been described as the leader of the West Virginia chapter of the Proud Boys.
Finley was among many of the Proud Boys leaders that day, including Ethan Nordean, Joseph Biggs and Zachary Rehl.
As members of the Proud Boys approached a barricaded area at the pedestrian entrance to the Capitol, Finley saw a leader from Florida, Joseph Biggs, lead the crowd in chants: “Whose house? Our house!” and “Whose Capitol? Our Capitol!”
According to the federal documents, Finley witnessed someone in the crowd start to tear down the barricades. The man, Ryan Samsel, has alleged that Biggs pressured him to start pushing down the barricades. The crowd, including members of the Proud Boys, began rushing forward. “To Finley, there appeared to be a coordinated effort to pull the barricades apart,” according to documents in his federal case.
Edwards described those same events from her point of view. They occurred before she was sprayed with the chemical irritant.
“The crowd had kind of gathered there. It was the crowd led by Joseph Biggs,” she said. She continued, “Joseph Biggs had a megaphone and he started talking about things relating to Congress and then the tables started turning.” She said his rhetoric turned to the Capitol Police.
“I know when I’m being turned into a villain,” Edwards told the committee, “and that’s when I turned toward my sergeant and stated the understatement of the century. I said, ‘Sarge, I think we’re going to need a few more people down here.”
Edwards described seeing Biggs and Samsel talking right before the crowd approached the barricades. She said a few officers began holding onto the bike rack barriers to try to maintain them. “I felt the bike rack come on top of my head, and I was pushed backwards, and my foot caught the stair behind me, and my chin hit the handrail and at that point I had blacked out, but the back of my head clipped the concrete stairs behind me.”
Video shows the moment that Officer Caroline Edwards suffered injuries outside of the U.S. Capitol. Edwards was thrown to the ground. pic.twitter.com/uMx2uhnCNM
— Norah O'Donnell ?? (@NorahODonnell) June 10, 2022
Edwards told members of the Jan. 6 Committee the violence of that day made a lasting impression.
“I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene. It was something like I’d seen out of the movies,” she said. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground. They were bleeding. They were throwing up. I mean, I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.
“I was catching people as they fell. It was carnage. It was chaos. I can’t even describe what I saw. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that as a police officer, as a law enforcement officer that I would find myself in the middle of a battle. I’m trained to detain a couple of subjects and handle a crowd, but I’m not combat trained, and that day it was just hours of hand-to-hand combat.”