The scenes of Trump supporters crashing through metal gates, forcing their way into the U.S. Capitol and occupying the House of Representatives and congressional offices shocked viewers across the county.

Some who have led law enforcement agencies in Maine also watched with sympathy for the police officers trying to regain control in the chaos.

“My thoughts and concern go out to police,” Mark Dion, a former Portland police chief and Cumberland County sheriff said on Wednesday afternoon. “I hope they can restore some sense of order without this breaking down into physical combat between government and its citizens.”

Capitol police were able to expel the mob and regain control of the Capitol building after a tumultuous and chaotic afternoon that resulted in the death of at least one person.

Dion said law enforcement officers generally give protesters the benefit of the doubt during large-scale demonstrations. He pointed to protests against the Vietnam War and in support of civil rights as examples of when people showed up to the nation’s capital filled with anger, but still managed to stage a peaceful demonstration.

He said perhaps the only way the violent confrontation between rioters and law enforcement could have been avoided would have been if President Trump, who urged his supporters to come to D.C. and incited the violence, had reversed course and told them to “stand down.”


“If I were a police commander, I would recognize him to be someone who the mob will react to and take direction from,” he said. “I would implore him to come out and say whatever is necessary to restore peace. Period.”

Trump did tell supporters in a recorded message to “go home” and respect law enforcement. However, Trump also repeated his baseless claims that the election was stolen from him and expressed his love of his supporters. “We love you. You’re very special,” Trump said to the rioters.

As the scenes of unrest filled television and computer screens around the world, Dion said it appeared as though police had little choice, other than a violent confrontation. That put law enforcement in a no-win situation, especially with the heightened scrutiny they have come under for using force against citizens at protests over the last year.

They have a duty to protect that institution and the members of Congress and they will do that,” he said. “But if you’re dealing with a mob, repelling them is going to get physical – there’s no way around it. You’re not going to talk people out of a space. You’re going to have to physically remove them.”

The lack of any coordinated show-of-force to prevent the mob from breaking in and roaming through the Capitol was seen by many as a striking contrast to the police response to protests in many cities last year, including racial justice protests last summer that were mostly peaceful but in some cases became violent or destructive. Police in Portland wore riot gear, used pepper spray and arrested more than 20 people in June after protesters confronted police and businesses were vandalized.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said he had not been following the day’s events because of a string of meetings. But he said it had appeared that the Washington, D.C., police made preparations leading up to Wednesday by having all of the force’s officers on duty and calling up the National Guard.


Joyce said it’s likely that many in the mob were exercising their right to free speech and that a smaller contingent came intent on a violent confrontation.

“Things can get out of hand rather quickly and even the best laid plans can get blown up,” he said. “When you’re in a big crowd and the crowd overpowers, you have to be careful with what you do. I don’t know what the D.C. police have been going through, but I bet they had their hands full.”

Joyce said he was not surprised by news of an angry mob overtaking the Capitol building.

“What I have seen in the last year, we are not a happy society,” he said. “We are polarized. Sometimes you wake up and say, ‘What caused this?”

Penobscot County Sheriff Troy Morton, who also serves as president of the Maine Sheriff’s Association, called the rioting in the nation’s capital, “a sad day in the history of our country.”

Morton said it would be unfair for him to comment on how well police in Washington, D.C., had prepared for a potential confrontation with the mob.


“Many steps can and should be taken to (manage) unrest,” Morton said in an email. “Unfortunately, we are seeing a major change in the manner in which protests are being conducted.”

The Maine Association of Police, in a message posted Wednesday on the association’s Facebook page, pointed out how police officers in Washington, D.C. answered the call of duty, despite being criticized by some in Congress over the past several months.

“We’re thinking of our friends, brothers, and sisters of all badges and patches, as well as our national guard and military responders in Washington, D.C. today,” the post said. “In halls and chambers where they have been excoriated by some, by way of politics, they answer the call to maintain safety, protect the innocent, and defend the Constitution and laws of this great country.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

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