Days before violence broke out at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a U.S. Capitol Police captain ordered the confiscation of dozens of riot helmets from officers without the knowledge of Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, a former USCP lieutenant told The Epoch Times.
Former Capitol Police Lt. Tarik K. Johnson said he was ordered to collect "20 to 30" helmets by his immediate supervisor, Capt. Ben Smith. Johnson said there was no explanation for the order, but he assumed the equipment was past its expiration date.
The collection was done within the two weeks prior to Jan. 6, most likely the week of Dec. 28, 2020, to Jan. 1, 2021, Johnson said.
“Now, did they tell me that the helmets were expired? Nobody told me that they were,” he said in an interview. “But if they were perfectly good helmets, why would you take them?”
Johnson said that after receiving a list of officers from Smith, he had sergeants announce the helmet collection at roll call. He said officers brought their helmets to his office.
Johnson said he first reported the helmet confiscation to the office of U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) during a meeting on Jan. 11, 2021.
Johnson said he served on Leahy's Capitol Police protective detail for more than two years. Leahy retired from the Senate in January after nearly 50 years in office.
Johnson said the day after he met with J.P. Dowd, Leahy's chief of staff, he received notice of suspension from U.S. Capitol Police. The Epoch Times reached out to Dowd regarding the meeting, but didn't receive a response by press time.
More recently, Johnson reported the helmet issue to the GOP-majority Committee on House Administration, which oversees Capitol Police. Committee staff asked him for a meeting to discuss Jan. 6 issues, he said; that meeting could take place within the coming days.
A Committee on House Administration staff member contacted by The Epoch Times declined to comment on the helmet issue or Johnson’s possible testimony.
'Why the Urgency?'The proper procedure would have been for the USCP Property Asset Management Division to handle the collection of the old equipment and issuance of new helmets, Johnson and Sund said.
“I don't do property inventory,” Johnson said. “So even when they were bringing me the helmets, there's no mechanism for me to give them a receipt anyway because we never do that.
"I've never seen that done. I'd been there a lot of years, and I never had to take helmets.”
Sund, who was forced to resign as chief on Jan. 7, 2021, said he wouldn't have issued a confiscation order—especially so close to a major protest scheduled for the National Mall and Capitol grounds.
“These helmets could have expired a year, two years ago,” Sund said. “Well, why the urgency to collect them now? That's what I just don't know. I just don't know when they expired, if, indeed, they expired.”
Sund said that in the fall of 2020, he obtained a $320,000 budget to purchase helmets. The goal was for every sworn officer to have head protection. Supply-chain delays due to COVID-19 hindered the fulfillment of the USCP order, he said.
Riot helmets are designed to protect officers from blunt impact from objects such as bats or pipes, and projectiles such as stones, bricks, or water bottles. Flip-down face shields are also meant to protect from chemical agents such as pepper spray.
The department secured the delivery of 104 helmets on Jan. 4, 2021. Those helmets were intended for officers who weren't part of the Civil Disturbance Unit (CDU), Sund said.
“I was pushing to get helmets in and get helmets distributed,” Sund said. “To hear TK [Johnson] say they’re pulling helmets back and not doing a one-for-one [exchange], that's very concerning."
“If they were concerned about the helmets being expired, why be concerned right then, right before January 6?” Sund said. “How long ago did the helmets expire? Did they expire a year ago? Why all of a sudden the urge, the rush to haul them in?”
Photographs and video from the Capitol grounds on Jan. 6 show dozens of Capitol Police officers outside the building wearing USCP baseball caps or knit winter hats. Some of the officers worked at police barricades where violence broke out.
'Mine Was Also Taken Away'The chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee said he blew the whistle on confiscated safety equipment months before Jan. 6 and long before Johnson was ordered to collect the riot helmets.
“Helmets were taken from USCP officers way before Jan. 6th, as were gas masks,” union chief Gus Papathanasiou told The Epoch Times in an email. “I was aware, as mine was also taken away.”
Papathanasiou said he addressed equipment confiscation and lack of replacements with Sund in the summer of 2020. Concerns were raised via email and in face-to-face meetings with Sund and top USCP staff, he said.
“We argued with them in our formal meetings as to why they are taking our helmets/masks without replacements and leaving us with ball caps and surgical masks,” Papathanasiou said.
Sund said he doesn't recall meetings discussing helmets with union officials. He said he started pushing for more helmets as assistant chief in 2017 and was able to place a large order in September or October 2020 after being named police chief.
“One of the first things I noticed when I got to the battle line is how many of our uniformed officers weren’t wearing helmets,” said the officer, who was part of a Civil Disturbance Unit platoon on Jan. 6. “I just assumed they didn’t have time to go to their lockers and retrieve their helmets. It never crossed my mind that they didn’t have helmets.”
The CDU officer told Baker his platoon was fully equipped on Jan. 6, but the new helmets they had received a month prior had serious problems.
“Everything was done by the book. I did my one-for-one exchange at the property management building,” the officer told Baker. “The only problem was that the new helmets were [expletive]. The fit wasn’t right, and the bolts for attaching additional gear like gas canisters and face shields were crap. I had to exchange mine two times before I got one that worked properly.”
Audio of USCP radio channels shows Johnson received no reply from commanders. He went ahead with the evacuation and subsequently organized the evacuation of the House chamber.
Previously unreleased Capitol security video reviewed by The Epoch Times shows that as senators and staff hustled down the stairs from the Senate chamber to the subway, a large crowd of protesters was moving down a nearby hallway toward the Senate.
Security video shows the timing of the evacuation left mere seconds to spare before protesters arrived. Johnson said he worried that any further delay could have meant senators would be trapped inside the chamber.
Johnson blamed the radio silence from the USCP Command Center on Yogananda Pittman, then the assistant chief and later acting police chief.
Johnson has pushed on social media in recent weeks for Congress to subpoena Pittman for questioning about the evacuation of lawmakers, lack of radio communication on Jan. 6, and other issues.
Only four of the seven Civil Disturbance Unit platoons activated for Jan. 6 were outfitted with helmets, hardened plastic armor, and shields, the report said.
“The many other USCP officers who fought to defend the Capitol were left to do so in their daily uniforms,” the document stated.
Communications on Jan. 6, the report said, were “chaotic, sporadic, and, according to many front-line officers, non-existent.” A USCP officer quoted in the report said: “We were on our own. Totally on our own.”
“Nothing,” one officer said in the report. “Baseball cap. I mean, that’s pretty much our equipment now. Which I had on January 6 was nothing, was my baseball cap.”