By Katelyn Polantz and Hannah Rabinowitz, CNN
Searing audio and emotional testimony from the US Capitol Police will be a cornerstone of the first January 6 criminal trial, prosecutors made clear Wednesday on the first day of witness testimony and evidence presentation against a defendant from Texas.
In federal court in Washington, prosecutors unveiled audio recordings of Capitol Police officers calling for help as Trump supporters attacked Capitol Hill. A Capitol Police inspector testifying to the jury broke down as she spoke about the failing police line, then watched videos of the building being breached.
Defendant Guy Reffitt, a member of a right-wing anti-government group in Texas who had stood at the front of the crowd with a bullhorn, is on trial for five charges. He is accused of taking a gun to the Capitol, interfering with two police officers outside the building and threatening his children when he returned home. Reffitt has pleaded not guilty.
The Justice Department has collected hundreds of hours of video for its prosecutions related to January 6, 2021, and in the Reffitt case is also using witnesses to explain what it believes his role was in the broader storming of the Capitol and disruption of Congress.
The prosecutors called Reffitt a leader of the crowd on Wednesday — “the tip of this mob’s spear,” according to prosecutor Jeffrey Nestler.
Prosecutors played Capitol Police audio recordings during testimony from an officer who had confronted Reffitt at the front of the crowd on the Capitol’s West Terrace. The recordings captured panicked officers calling for help.
“We need every single unit on the Upper West Terrace right now,” one officer shouted in the recordings, which took place just before 2 p.m.
“They’re breaching the Upper West Terrace. All units respond,” a dispatcher responded.
Capitol Police Officer Shauni Kerkhoff testified that she had fired pepper balls at Reffitt as he stood on a railing on the Capitol steps shouting into a megaphone. Reffitt, wearing protective armor, was undeterred, she said.
As the riot escalated, Kerkhoff said, she was “panicked,” screaming that “they’re coming up the stairs” and “we need backup.” She also said she feared the crowd would get into the building, where members of Congress were.
‘Hard to hear my officers screaming for help’
Later in the day Wednesday, Inspector Monique Moore, who was in charge of the US Capitol Police’s command center, choked up while testifying about the January 6 attack.
“It was hard to hear my officers screaming for help,” she told the jury.
Moore said she was trying to get resources for Capitol Police that day, as they were overwhelmed by the crowd.
“The mood was in disbelief,” she said.
Moore then paused for several seconds, fanning her face briefly, before continuing to speak.
“This was our first time ever seeing anything of such … at least for my 24 years,” she said. “We’ve never seen the actions of individuals who came up to the Capitol with total disregard of the police, the law and democracy.”
Moore testified that she was the one who had called other law enforcement forces, including the US Park Police and the Secret Service, for help.
Prosecutors also played surveillance video that showed Capitol windows from the inside as rioters broke into them and spilled into the building.
“That is the breach of the Capitol,” Moore said.
Many recordings to play at trial
At the start of the trial, prosecutors told the jury they plan to use ample video and audio recordings to prove their case.
They say they also will use Reffitt’s own words against him, by showing the jury a recorded videoconference where the defendant spoke to his right-wing group about the insurrection, along with recordings of a family argument days after the attack and Reffitt’s own recordings on the National Mall as he made threatening comments about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
“Ripping them out by their hair. Every f**king one of them. Dragging them out kicking and f**king screaming. I just want to see Pelosi’s head hitting every f**king stair on the way out, and Mitch McConnell too,” prosecutors quoted Reffitt saying, pledging to show several videos in the coming days that captured his statements during the attack and afterward.
Jurors — who include a Walgreens cashier, a person with a second home in the Caribbean, and federal government employees, including one who works on Capitol Hill — appeared to take notes throughout, and especially watched closely as video showed Reffitt at the front of the crowd.
Reffitt’s defense attorney William Welch countered the prosecutors’ outline of the evidence with a three-minute opening statement. He told the jury that Reffitt had never assaulted anyone and was not armed and that any altercation with police where he had been pepper-sprayed outside the Capitol had ended quickly.
The trial is a “rush to judgment,” Welch concluded.
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