Jan. 6 – a year later: ‘We fought hard’ – Marco patrolman was Capitol officer during riot
And what does he think of his new job? ‘I’m absolutely happy to be here’
On Jan. 6, 2021, Michael Garner was a U.S. Capitol Police officer, where he helped beat back the assault of the mob that attacked the seat of American democracy that day. On Jan. 6, 2022, Garner was Officer Garner of the Marco Island Police Department, doing his police work in the decidedly calmer atmosphere and warmer weather of sunny Southwest Florida.
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While the one-year anniversary of the Capitol riot was “not really super emotional,” said Garner, he did make a point to reach out to friends and colleagues who had fought alongside him that day. “I touched base with friends in D.C., trying to make sure everyone’s doing good.”
Garner started with the Marco department in early May. He said Jan. 6 was “not the only reason, but that maybe sped it up a little bit.” He was not alone in leaving the Capitol Police; according to NBC News, Capitol Police chief Thomas Manger told a Senate panel last week that more than 150 officers have retired or resigned in the past year.
The riot left 140 officers injured and three dead, including two who responded to the attack and died by suicide shortly after, and morale issues have continued to be a problem, said the NBC report.
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On Jan. 6, 2021, Garner was working in the Senate division of the Capitol Police, which is split into House and Senate groups, and a member of the CDU, or Civil Disturbance Unit. “Civil Disturbance is not an attack unit. We use batons and shields. You are there to keep the peace.” With one exception, deadly force was not used to repel the rioters, even as they directly attacked the law enforcement officers.
“Bear spray, pepper spray was used on us, pipes and flagpoles. A light post got me pretty good.” Marco Island, Garner said with a smile, “is a little quieter.”
He has since seen himself in videos that kept playing on television from that day but feels a distance.
“It seems like a long time ago. When I see myself on screen, it’s like watching a movie – it doesn’t seem real. It’s like some kind of medieval movie. We were defending the fortress, greatly outnumbered, completely exhausted.” Garner takes great pride in his service that day.
“We deployed around noon to the west front of the Capitol. We did get flanked and surrounded, then pulled back to West Terrace Drive. There were 80 of us to 8,000, then it went to 20,000. I was in the thickest of it.
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“We fought hard. There were 20 or 30 of us who held the line for 10 minutes. It was a huge success, no matter what the media says. Every member of Congress was evacuated, and none hurt.”
Garner also called out for praise the officers from other departments who answered their calls for support. “The MPD (D.C. Metropolitan Police Department) was fantastic. They got there very quick. It was an honor to work alongside them.”
A native of Long Island, Garner went to Hunter College, part of the New York City University, and majored in environmental science. Although he has a minor in political science, he was at pains to say he stays away from politics.
“I don’t have much of an opinion on politics. My job was to protect Congress and visitors to Capitol Hill. You can’t let your personal opinions get in the way.” He does attribute the unpreparedness for the riot to a “failure of imagination,” while also saying “I didn’t think people could break into the Capitol.”
After over four years on the Capitol Police force, Garner was ready for a move, Jan. 6 or not, he said.
“It was always my plan to come south. I wanted an island department, one with a marine unit.” Garner, who grew up boating, holds a captain’s license. A picture on the MIPD website shows him behind the wheel of their new patrol boat, although he is currently working the “graveyard” shift on road patrol. He enjoys the beach and gets there whenever possible on days off.
“I love it here. Everyone’s been friendly. We do community policing – (events such as) pizza with police. There’s just enough excitement, action, and activity to keep the job interesting,” Garner said. “I’m absolutely happy to be here.”
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“He’s doing a great job. We’re happy to have him here,” said Garner’s boss, Police Chief Tracy Frazzano. With several new hires in the past six months, Chief Frazzano reported that her department currently has 38 sworn officers, one short of full complement, with one in the process of being hired.