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STORY BY MARTHA MENDOZA AND JULIET LINDERMAN

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Published on March 5, 2021 11:57 PM

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In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, police stand guard after holding off rioters who tried to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington. Hundreds of emails, texts, photos and documents obtained by the Associated Press show how a patchwork of law enforcement agencies from all directions tried to give support as protesters poured into town. But a lack of coordination and adequate planning left the Capitol vulnerable, and resulted in a deadly_and potentially avoidable_breach.(AP Photo/Julio Cor
Two firefighters loaned to Washington for the day were the only medics on the Capitol steps Jan. 6, trying to triage injured officers as they watched the angry mob swell and attack police working to protect Congress.

Law enforcement agents were "being pulled into the crowd and trampled, assaulted with scaffolding materials, and/or bear maced by protesters," wrote Arlington County firefighter Taylor Blunt in an after-action memo. Some couldn't walk, and had to be dragged to safety.

Even the attackers sought medical help, and Blunt and his colleague Nathan Waterfall treated those who were passing out or had been hit. But some "feigned illness to remain behind police lines," Blunt wrote.

The memo is one of hundreds of emails, texts, photos and documents obtained by The Associated Press. Taken together, the materials shed new light on the sprawling patchwork of law enforcement agencies that tried to stop the siege and the lack of coordination and inadequate planning that stymied their efforts.

The AP obtained the materials through 35 Freedom of Information Act requests to law enforcement agencies that responded to the Capitol insurrection.

"We were among the first mutual aid teams to arrive and were critical to begin the process of driving protestors off the Capitol," wrote Blunt.

Five people died in the attack, including a police officer. Two other officers killed themselves after. There were hundreds of injuries and more than 300 people, including members of extremist groups Proud Boys and Oathkeepers, have been charged with federal crimes. Federal agents are still investigating and hundreds more suspects are at large. Justice Department officials have said they may charge some with sedition.

The Arlington firefighters ended up at the Capitol because, two days earlier, Washington Metro Police Chief Robert J. Contee had formally asked the Arlington County Police Department, along with police departments from Montgomery and Prince George's counties in Maryland, and Arlington County in Virginia, to lend them some officers trained for protests and riots, according to the documents.

Arlington's acting police chief Andy Penn said they'd send help for the "planned and unplanned first amendment activities," according to emails.

At the time, the Capitol Police department had issued a security assessment warning that militia members, white supremacists and other extremists were heading to Washington to target Congress in what they saw as a "last stand" to support President Donald Trump.

Federal agencies not responding were also preparing for potential violence. On Jan. 4, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said staff should try to telework for the week.

Two days later, it was 3:39 p.m. when Penn emailed county officials that he had "just been notified" that Arlington officers were responding to the Capitol attack and had been absorbed into the overall response led by Capitol Police.

That was almost 90 minutes after the mob first busted into the Capitol and more than an hour after the medics began treating injured police on the steps.

Members of Congress, who were locked down or rushed to safety that day as the attackers approached the House and Senate chambers, are holding hearings this week to get to the bottom of what went wrong with the law enforcement response that allowed the crowd to enter and ransack the Capitol building.

One question they are looking to answer is why the Capitol Police didn't have more help on hand early in the day, before the rally near the White House devolved into insurrection at the Capitol.

The emails obtained by AP — hastily written and including misspellings and incomplete sentences — show that nearby police agencies were alerted two days earlier that there might be trouble and were prepared to help.

The night before the breach, after hours of rallies and speeches across the city, Federal Protective Service officers, who protect federal property, had noticed protesters trying to camp out on federal property and were "being vigilant for any suspicious activity," according to an email from the agency.

They were expecting large crowds, and by the next morning they were monitoring them closely.

At 9:45 a.m. a protective service liaison to the Capitol Police wrote, "Good morning Sir, what I have is the Ellipse is permitted for 30k but they expecting for there to be much more. Freedom Plaza original permit was 5k and it was raised to 30k, the permit outside Sylven Theater is permitted for 15K."

The agents were particularly interested in the right wing extremist group, Proud Boys. They noted how many were in Washington, that they were staying at a downtown hotel, and what they planned.

In a briefing at noon on that day, just as Trump was encouraging supporters to " fight like hell," a Federal Protective Service email said about 300 Proud Boys were at the U.S. Capitol.

"No incidents at this time," the email said. But then it warned, "The Proud Boys are threatening to shut down the water system in the downtown area, which includes government facilities."

The email noted there was a man in a tree with what appeared to be a rifle near the Ellipse, and about 25,000 people were around the White House, including some who were hiding bags in bushes outside the building.

"Together we stand!" the officer signed off.