Center for Politics to Honor U.S. Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers with First “Defender of Democracy” Award

Center for Politics to Honor U.S. Capitol and D.C. Metropolitan Police Officers with First “Defender of Democracy” Award

(CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA) — The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia will honor the service of two U.S. Capitol Police Officers and a D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 with the presentation of the Center’s first annual “Defender of Democracy” award.

This year’s inaugural award recipients will be Private First Class Harry A. Dunn, Sergeant Aquilino Gonell, and Officer Daniel Hodges. An awards ceremony will take place in the Rotunda Dome Room at 12 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23. Following the ceremony, the officers will participate in a special panel discussion about the events of January 6, 2021.The event is free and open to the public with advanced registration, and members of the media are welcome to attend.

“The events of January 6th must serve as a constant reminder to everyone that even a strong democracy like ours can find itself under siege,” said Larry J. Sabato, Director of the Center for Politics. “Had it not been for the actions of these dedicated officers and others like them who refused to yield to the violent mob invading the Capitol, we might be living in a very different country today. They are defenders of democracy in every sense, and they have given every American more than any award could ever reflect.”

More than 100 officers were injured in the Jan. 6, 2021 attacks. A bipartisan Senate report found that at least seven people had lost their lives in connection with the insurrection, including at least four police officers who died by suicide in the months after they responded to the attack. As of August 2022, more than 840 people have been charged with federal crimes related to the attack on the Capitol.

Despite the challenges of being in the public sphere while continuing full duty, Officers Dunn, Gonell, and Hodges have testified before the U.S. House select committee investigating Jan. 6, 2021 and remain committed to seeking justice and accountability in order to prevent future violence and attacks on the electoral process.

About the award recipients:

Harry A. Dunn joined the U.S. Capitol Police (“USCP”) in 2008 and since 2011 has served at the officer rank as a Private First Class (“PFC”). PFC Dunn has received several awards and commendations for his exemplary service in the USCP, including the Capitol Police Service Medal, the Capitol Police Achievement Medal, and a commendation for interdicting an individual in possession of a firearm who was attempting to enter the Capitol.

Daniel Hodges is a member of the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police. On Jan. 6, 2021, Officer Hodges responded to the attacks on the U.S. Capitol as Capitol Police units were overrun. Officer Hodges was crushed by rioters in the West Terrace doors of the Capitol. He returned to full duty within a month and continues to serve as an officer.

Capitol Police Sergeant Aquilino Gonell joined the U.S. Army and in 2004 was sent to Iraq. He joined the Capitol Police Department in 2006. On Jan. 6, 2021, he spent hours on the west side of the Capitol trying to stop the wave of assailants from entering the building. He was hit with an American flag pole and a bat, and at one point fell to the ground and was dragged by a group that beat and insulted him. Since the attack, he’s undergone surgery on his right foot and his left shoulder, which he still is unable to rotate. Sergeant Gonell has testified in some of the court cases of individuals charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot, and he is helping authorities on the investigations.

About the award:

Each award is sculpted in the shape of a shield symbolizing vigilance as well as service to others. The award also features etched stars and stripes along with four symbols representing core values central to self-governance: freedom, justice, equality, and knowledge. Fashioned entirely of clear glass, the medium was selected to evoke democratic principles of truth and transparency while its subtle reflective qualities also encourage viewers to find themselves among the values the award represents. The Center for Politics at the University of Virginia established the Defender of Democracy award in 2022 with special project funding provided by the Larry J. Sabato Foundation.