WASHINGTON – Nearly emotionless, U.S. Capitol Police officer Caroline Edwards sat before the House Jan. 6 committee Thursday night and watched dramatic video footage of the harrowing moments as she battled the pro-Trump mob.
The horde stormed angrily against bicycle rack barricades and four of her Capitol Police colleagues. Edwards was knocked violently backward, suffering a concussion that affects her still. Then the mob moved to the next line of police defense, and Edwards did, too, continuing the struggle.
“It was something like I had seen out of the movies,” Edwards told the committee and a prime-time national television audience during testimony that was both gripping and gut-wrenching. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were officers on the ground they were bleeding. They were throwing up. . . . I saw friends with blood all over their faces. I was slipping in people’s blood.”
With her testimony, Edwards, 31, became for many the first police face to appear on a national stage to discuss the viciousness of the attack on the Capitol. She was one of about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers who were injured in the riot. Other officers have testified previously, but not on this stage — the first of multiple public hearings being orchestrated by the committee as it seeks to build a case that former president Donald Trump and his allies conspired to carry out a coup.
The House committee interwove her responses to Rep. Liz Cheney with video taken from various sources, and Edwards provided plenty of clear recollections of how the mob approached her, insulted her, bullied her and eventually powered its way up to the Capitol.
Edwards joined the Capitol Police in 2017, after beginning her career in public relations. She is from Atlanta and graduated from the University of Georgia.
Edwards was one of the first officers to come forward and criticize her department for its lack of preparation, speaking as a member of the officers union.
In February 2021, Edwards told USA Today that officers in her division had asked commanders on Jan. 5, 2021, about handling armed rioters and were told there was no plan. She told the newspaper that she was riot-trained but was deployed without equipment, a common problem for Capitol Police officers that day. One school bus packed with riot gear was locked and couldn’t be opened by frenzied officers, an investigation later disclosed.
Edwards also noted that Capitol Police leaders did have warnings about the pending storm but didn’t inform the front-line officers. Although Deputy Chief Yogananda Pittman told Congress that there was “a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target,” officers weren’t prepared and help wasn’t summoned quickly enough.
In her testimony Thursday night, Edwards recounted how a group of Proud Boys, wearing orange knit hats, approached her and four other officers at the Peace Circle barricade. None of the officers wore protective gear. She named Joseph Biggs, a leader of the far-right group who is facing federal seditious conspiracy charges, as one person who confronted her and stirred up the crowd.
Edwards recalled the huge mob turning on the police and hurling insults, prompting her to suggest to a colleague that they call for reinforcements.
“I know when I’m being turned into a villain, and that’s when I turn to my sergeant,” she said. “And I stated the understatement of the century. I said, ‘Sarge, I think we’re going to need a few more people down here.’ “
The gathering crowd began to press against the barricades, and the video played by the committee showed the officers struggling to hold on to the bike racks.
Edwards said one of the bike racks struck her in the head, and she can be seen on the video falling onto one of the stone steps.
“I felt the bike rack come on top of my head and I was pushed backward, 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 hit the concrete stairs behind me,” she recounted to the committee.
When she regained consciousness, Edwards said, “adrenaline kicked in,” and she rushed to support other officers who had been pushed back by the rioters.
The video showed her glancing over at her colleague, officer Brian D. Sicknick, who had apparently been sprayed in the face with an irritant. Then Edwards was sprayed in the face. Sicknick would later suffer two strokes and die.
“When I fell behind that line . . . I can just remember my breath catching in my throat because what I saw was just a war scene,” Edwards said. “It was carnage. It was chaos.”
Edwards began her testimony with a tribute to her grandfather, a Marine who was wounded in the Korean War battle at Chosin Reservoir, saying he “answered the call at a great personal cost.” She said “he lived the rest of his days with bullets and shrapnel in his legs but never once complained about his sacrifice. I would like to think that he would be proud of me. Proud of his granddaughter that stood her ground that day and continued fighting even though she was wounded, like he did many years ago.”
When she was done testifying, Edwards and Sicknick’s longtime partner, Sandra Garza, shared an extended embrace. Lawmakers on the panel approached the line of officers who bore witness to the insurrection — and the hearing — and expressed gratitude for their service and presence.
The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker and Jacqueline Alemany contributed to this report.