Jacob Chestnut

A Hero at the Capitol

We saw the valiancy of the U.S. Capitol Police firsthand on January 6, 2021, when officers like Eugene Goodman acted courageously during the insurrection at the Capitol. But that was not the first instance where Capitol Police officers have gone above and beyond to protect one of the most sacred places in American Democracy.

Officer Jacob Chestnut, Image Source
July 24, 1998, started as a rather normal day in Washington, D.C., and Officer Jacob Chestnut of the U.S. Capitol Police was posted at the Capitol’s visitor entrance. While writing directions for a pair of tourists, an armed suspect entered the building and stormed past Officer Chestnut’s checkpoint, shooting him at point-blank range. As the gunman rampaged through the Capitol, he engaged in gunfire with the Capitol Police, injuring one tourist as they sought cover. An additional Capitol Police officer, Detective John M. Gibson, was fatally wounded by the gunman.
This abrupt end to Officer Chestnut’s life pales in comparison to his service, not only in law enforcement, but also as a veteran. Before coming to Washington, D.C., Jacob Chestnut served 20 years in the United States Air Force as part of the Air Force Security Police and retired as a master sergeant. He saw action on the frontlines during two tours of duty as a Military Policeman during the Vietnam War.

A Capitol Police Honor Guard salutes the coffins of Officer Jacob J. Chestnut, Jr., and Detective John M. Gibson as they laid in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. Image Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives Photography Office.
Within a few days after the tragedy, the House of Representatives and the Senate passed a concurrent resolution for a memorial service for Officer Chestnut and his colleague Detective Gibson to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda. The service was to honor not only their protection of the Congressmen and women in the Capitol on that fateful day, but also the American people and the Democracy we hold most dear. Representative Tom DeLay of Texas described the relevance of Officer Chestnut’s and Detective Gibson’s lying in state, saying:

“… the sacrifices of thousands of police officers across the Nation who do their duty to serve and protect the public, sometimes under great abuse, sometimes under great disregard, and many times people take them for granted. It all comes together when an incident like this happens and we realize how much we owe to police officers all over this country.”

Officer Chestnut and Detective Gibson became the first individuals to lie in honor in the US Capitol Rotunda— an honor that would later be given to individuals like Civil Rights figure Rosa Parks and Officer Brian D. Sicknick, another U.S. Capitol Police officer who was killed during the Capitol insurrection earlier this year. Chestnut is buried in Arlington Cemetery with full honors.

Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.