Vandals Paint the Town, Capitol Cops Take the Heat

By Ed O'Keefe

Jan 31, 2007 1:15pm

ABC News’ Z. Byron Wolf Reports: the Capitol Police can’t seem to get it right in recent years.  Sometimes they are too harsh, as when they kicked Cindy Sheehan and the wife of Florida Republican Rep. Bill Young out of the 2006 State of the Union address for wearing t-shirts.  Sheehan’s tee voiced her opposition to the Iraq war while Mrs. Young’s expressed support for the troops.

And, of course, there’s the infamous case of when a Capitol Police officer didn’t recognize Georgia Democrat Rep. Cynthia McKinney, who was sporting a new hairdo, and got into a kerfuffle involving a cell phone and some heated words.  The cops actually came out okay in that one.  McKinney lost her next primary race and no longer serves in Congress.

Other times they’re too lax.  Say, when a crack-addled, dillinger-toting carjacker rammed his way into a construction site on the West Front early one morning and ran unheeded through the building only to be tackled eventually by the civilians who work in the ceremonial Flag Office.

This past weekend they got into another imbroglio.

A "splinter group" of the several hundred thousand peace protesters who took to the National Mall apparently wielded spray paint and marked up some of the pavement on the Capitol property.  This led to some irate declarations by some Republican Memebers of Congress.

"It is ironic that some people opposed to U.S. troops in Iraq abused their First Amendment rights and broke U.S. law by defacing the Capitol this weekend," wrote Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., in a paper statement. "These few dishonored the service and sacrifice of soldiers deployed in harm’s way in Iraq who guarantee their right to protest.  Lives are more important than property," he concluded. 

And the Congressmen blamed the Capitol police for not stepping in to stop the spray painting.

"I am also disappointed by media reports that the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Capitol Police obstructed efforts by police officers at the scene to protect one of America’s most important symbols of our Democratic Republic and to apprehend those responsible," Bartlett continued.  "I call on Speaker Pelosi to launch an investigation to ensure the U.S. Capitol will be protected and to send a strong message that violent protests will not be tolerated."

Senator Wayne Allard, R-Colo., added his voice of protest, saying, "I was absolutely dismayed by the vandalism and the blatant disregard for respect of property that occurred at our Nation’s Capitol this weekend," in a strongly worded letter to Phillip Morse, the newly minted Capitol Police Chief.

"On a day when thousands came to Washington, D.C. to exercise their First Amendment rights, the actions of a select few have tarnished their efforts by defacing the United States Capitol and several other government buildings.  I am disgusted by these actions, and lack of efforts to protect public property,” Allard wrote in the letter.

On Wednesday, the Capitol Chief answered his critics with a "Chief’s Message" on the spray painting incident.  He said the officers never saw the spray painting happen or they would have certainly made arrests and that the graffiti was cleaned off shortly after it appeared. 

Besides, he says in the message, Capitol Police had their hands full "holding their lines" and keeping the splinter group from storming the Capitol.

Read for yourself:

Chief’s Message

Today, Chief Phillip D. Morse, Sr. issued the following statement to the men and women of the United State Capitol Police regarding media coverage of the events that occurred at the Capitol on Saturday, January 27, 2007:

After reading several press accounts of the events surrounding the demonstration on January 27, 2007, I feel that it is important to set the record straight.  During the course of the peaceful anti-war demonstration that attracted tens of thousands of protesters who marched around the Capitol in an exercise of their First Amendment rights, we were confronted with a splinter group that was seeking a confrontation with the police.  Law enforcement agencies, including the USCP, are familiar with this group and we know their tactics. 

The intended goal of this splinter group was to breach into restricted areas, climb the steps, and rush the doors of the Capitol Building.  We were not going to let them achieve their goal.  In order to achieve our goal of protecting the Capitol without injury to officers, demonstrators, or innocent bystanders, I determined the best course of action was to stand firm in the face of provocation. Officers were continuously redeployed to points close to the Capitol to ensure unity of command and a strong, agile police presence.

Our officers did an outstanding job.  We held our lines; no one entered into secure areas; and no one climbed the steps of the Capitol or even got close to any of the doors or windows.  At the end of the day, the splinter group was only allowed to be in areas that are otherwise open to the public at anytime of the day or night.  Our efforts to protect the Capitol and ensure security were successful.

Some members of this group did covertly mark the pavement on the Lower West Terrace during their confrontation with us.  Had this been observed, I would have directed arrests to be made.  However, the size and continual movement of the crowd provided concealment and made detection of their actions impossible. Once the crowd dispersed, I was appalled and disgusted that any individual, whatever their cause, would deface the grounds of the Capitol.  Fortunately, due to the notable efforts of the staff of the Architect of the Capitol, their signs of disrespect were quickly washed away. 

Those are the facts.  It is my duty to make decisions during such events, quickly determine the best course of action, and give direction to our officers based on the totality of the circumstances. All decisions were mine as Chief of Police and I made them without consultation or influence by any Member of Congress, or Congressional Leadership.  I stand by the decisions I made and I take full responsibility for them. 

I am extremely proud of you for the discipline and professional manner in which you protected the Capitol Building.  Every Member of Congress I have briefed on the matter has expressed the same level of appreciation and admiration.

On Saturday, just like we do every day, we showed that we are Unflinching, Sincere, Courteous, and Principled.  By embracing our core values and standing together as a team, we will continue to be successful in our mission.

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