John McArdle, ROLL CALL STAFF
Copyright 2006 Roll Call, Inc.
After several high-profile appearances and news conferences earlier this month in response to her confrontation with a Capitol Police officer, last week was a relatively quiet one for Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.).
On April 6, a day after it was reported that a federal grand jury was investigating her alleged assault on Officer Paul McKenna some two weeks ago, McKinney issued an apology for the incident on the House floor, and while multiple subpoenas have been issued in the case, last week ended without a decision from the grand jury. On Friday a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office would not say if any decision could be expected this week.
A grand jury investigation into the matter does not mean McKinney will be charged with any crime, but it could potentially lead to charges and the issuance of an arrest warrant. Several high-ranking House officials have said that if a warrant for McKinney is issued, arrangements would likely be made for her to turn herself in voluntarily.
But as television reports and newspaper headlines about the incident died down last week, Chuck Canterbury, the national president of the Grand Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police, the nation's largest organization of sworn law enforcement officers, came to Capitol Hill on Wednesday and Thursday to meet members of the Capitol Police and reassure them that the matter was far from over.
"We've got to use this as an example to say it's not OK to hit a police officer," Canterbury said to a group of officers he approached in the cafeteria of the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Thursday.
Canterbury praised McKenna's professionalism and later said that it's the priority of the national FOP to stand up for officers, especially in a high-profile incident such as the one that occurred between McKinney and McKenna.
"They're under a lot of scrutiny up here because of their high-profile jobs," Canterbury said of the Capitol Police. But "we can be their advocate from the standpoint of making sure everybody understands that it's not OK to hit a police officer and that being a Member of the House or Senate does not give you the ability to commit a crime and get away with it," Canterbury said. "Taking a simple assault to a grand jury is unprecedented, and with this being unprecedented we wanted the officers to know the national organization supported them. ... I want [McKinney] to be dealt with like any other citizen in the U.S. when they commit a crime."
Canterbury said that in his two days on the Hill he had spoken briefly with McKenna and "encouraged him to know what his legal rights are. I support his right to seek any and all legal remedies he sees fit."
According to the Capitol Police report from the March 29 incident, the alleged assault occurred at an entrance door of the Longworth House Office Building. The event was classified as an "assault on a police officer" in the report, which states that McKenna, "while performing his official duties as United States Capitol Police Officer and in full uniform, stated that he was physically assaulted" by McKinney "in the chest with a closed fist."
Initially, McKinney had blamed McKenna, who is white, for the incident because he did not recognizing her as a Congresswoman. She questioned Capitol Police security procedures and whether she was a victim of racial profiling. But in her floor apology, McKinney said that "there should not have been any physical contact in this incident. I have always supported law enforcement. ... I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all, and I regret its escalation. And I apologize."
One Capitol Police officer said last week that he understands that as a Member of Congress McKinney expects to be recognized, "but I've also got to know who's coming through my door. It's not a black and white issue. The issue is, I asked you to stop. This is post-9/11, and we have to be able to have the authority to stop anyone, Senator or Congressman, for their safety and our own safety and for the safety of the community."
A spokesman for McKinney could not be reached for comment on Friday.
April 17, 2006
All quiet as McKinney awaits grand jury action