sergeant. Phuson Nguyen, a 19-year veteran of DC police, said he had already been hit once with some kind of chemical spray; he walked to the back of the tunnel and cleared his eyes, then returned to the front in a gas mask. Surveillance and police body camera video played in court showed Fitzsimons reaching out to remove Nguyen’s mask while another man sprayed what Nguyen thought was bear spray directly in his face. Then Fitzsimons released the mask over Nguyen’s face, trapping the chemical irritant inside, said the officer.
“At that time, I was choking under the mask,” Nguyen said. “I also got knocked down at the same time. … In my head, I thought that was it for me. I thought that was where I was going to die. … In my head, I was like, ‘ If you want to see your family again, you have to pull yourself together.’ 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 photographs capturing Fitzsimons across the Capitol on Jan. 6, the judge handling the case decided on Friday not to return a verdict on six counts, including having assaulting police officers and obstructing official process, and five misdemeanors. Instead, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras said he would first consider a defense motion to dismiss certain charges and issue a ruling after Labor Day.
Fitzsimons, 38, of Lebanon, Maine, has been detained since February and is currently in the DC jail. He chose a trial bench over a jury trial, and on Thursday he opted not to testify in the case.
Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, who 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, and video showed the two men in trouble. The pain shot through his left shoulder, “one of the worst pains I’ve felt in my life,” Gonell said. He said he suffered a partial tear in his rotator cuff and labrum, underwent surgery and now faces forced medical retirement from the Capitol Police.
DC Officer Sarah Beaver was also in the tunnel, having retreated from a previous losing skirmish on the Capitol perimeter. The video showed Fitzsimons throwing an unstrung 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 uninjured, although briefly staggered. But spending hours in the small tunnel, Beaver said, “I couldn’t breathe and was afraid that if I passed out I was going to die.”
Fitzsimons’ attorney, Natasha Taylor-Smith, a federal public defender from Philadelphia, said the video evidence did not clearly show Fitzsimons grabbing Nguyen’s gas mask or Gonell’s shield. She said Nguyen was ‘simply mistaken’ about the type of rioter who grabbed the mask, and that Fitzsimons was badly knocked out by chemical sprays from both sides when he allegedly snagged the arm or shield by Gonel.
Because the photo of a bloodied Fitzsimons was widely publicized, Taylor-Smith said, he “became the poster child for Jan. 6.” She said he brought no weapons to the Capitol, although prosecutors considered his bow a weapon, and she criticized Gonell, saying he wrote a book, conducted several interviews and tried to take advantage of His experience. Gonell denied this.
Although assault and obstruction charges carry maximum sentences of 20 years, federal sentencing guidelines suggest a possible range of 63 to 78 months in prison for Fitzsimons if convicted. The range could reach 87 to 108 months if Gonell’s shoulder injury is classified as ‘permanent’.
Fitzsimons has made no attempt to hide his distrust of the 2020 election results or his desire to be heard in Washington. In December 2020, he posted a request on the “Lebanon Maine Truth Seekers” Facebook page trying to organize a caravan in DC on January 6, the page’s administrator said. It had no takers.
Fitzsimons also left three voicemail messages for Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) that month, Golden’s chief of staff said, one of which began, “So what’s going on with voter fraud ?” Fitzsimons continued, according to the voicemail played in court: “I’ll be in DC on the 6th. I don’t think I’ll see you there. Maybe I would. Maybe I would.”
When Fitzsimons returned to Maine after January 6, he called the Lebanon Select Board meeting and regaled the board with his experience. “I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful revolution,” Fitzsimons said. He also gave an interview to the New Hampshire-based Rochester Voice and provided photos of him on Capitol Hill, but failed to mention his hand-to-hand fight with police. according to prosecutors.
Fitzsimons, a butcher by trade, told The Voice’s Harrison Thorp that after attending President Donald Trump’s “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, he went to his car and put on his white butcher’s coat, with his name embroidered on the chest. , accompanied by his rubber apron and fur. He also said he wore an unstrung archery bow “to signify his peaceful intent”.
He was quickly captured on video climbing the stage set up for Joe Biden’s impending inauguration and holding the bow. Fitzsimons was seen on video shouting “Freedom” before ending up 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 dropping it near Fitzsimons’ face. At the same time, a police officer was also targeting Fitzsimons with spray, the officer’s body camera video showed.
The encounter with Gonell occurred as he held his circular shield with his left arm and leaned down to help someone else who had fallen. Gonell said he has never been involved in an altercation with a protester, through hundreds of protests, in his 16 years with the Capitol Police.
Another protester who attacked Gonell, Mark Ponder, smashed a pole into the officer’s shield, shattering the pole and the shield. Gonell spoke at Ponder’s sentencing in July, when Ponder was sentenced to 63 months in prison.
Beaver said all manner of police equipment was snatched from officers and then sent back down the tunnel to police. “I was hit with police truncheons,” she said. “I saw a gun fly in the tunnel. Fire extinguishers. I have a full can of bear spray.
After Fitzsimons struggled with both Nguyen and Gonell, surveillance video showed, he stood up and then ran headlong into the line of officers, his fists flailing. He was quickly rebuffed. During that foray, prosecutors said, another rioter swinging a metal crutch struck Fitzsimons on top of the head, opening the bloody wound, which took six staples to close.
Both Beaver and Gonell said they believed their hours-long position inside the tunnel was blocking the only way rioters could enter the Capitol, and it wasn’t until later that they learned that the rioters had forced entry elsewhere.
“No one ever went through the West Terrace tunnel that day,” Beaver said. “We made sure that didn’t happen.”