05/23/2006

D.C. cops frustrated by pace of probe

John McArdle, ROLL CALL STAFF

Copyright 2006 Roll Call, Inc. 

As another week ended without a decision from the grand jury reviewing Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-Ga.) alleged assault on a U.S. Capitol Police officer, police labor committee officials expressed frustration on Friday with how long the process is taking and how the U.S. Attorney's office has handled the case.

More than a month and a half after the incident occurred, USCP Fraternal Order of Police Chairman Andy Maybo said Friday that "there is a large concern on behalf of the U.S. Capitol Police officers with how long" the investigation is taking. And while speculation continues to occur as to when a decision will be handed down by the grand jury, "Our frustration continues to grow the longer this plays out."

Jim Pasco, executive director of the National FOP, said that feeling is shared by law enforcement groups outside the Capitol Police who are closely watching the case.

"This is not the Manson murders, this is a simple assault case with numerous witnesses and the statement of a police officer," Pasco said. "The only thing that distinguishes this case from cases all over the country every single day of the year was that the alleged perpetrator was a Congresswoman. ... If as a result of this foot dragging and lack of decisiveness on the part of the U.S. attorney's office Ms. McKinney gets off, it's going to have a chilling effect on rank-and-file law enforcement in the District of Columbia."

According to the Capitol Police report filed after the March 29 incident, the alleged assault occurred just before 9 a.m. at a door to the Longworth House Office Building. The event was classified as an "assault on a police officer" in the report, which states that Officer Paul 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."

On April 3, after a week of investigating the incident, Capitol Police officials referred their findings in the matter to the U.S. attorney's office, which brought the matter before a grand jury and has subpoenaed at least six staffers in the case.

A grand jury investigation into the matter does not necessarily mean McKinney will be charged with any crime, but it potentially could lead to charges and the issuance of an arrest warrant. If an arrest warrant is issued, several high-ranking House officials have said that arrangements would likely be made for McKinney to turn herself in voluntarily.

Last week Kelly Burchell, assistant general counsel for the Capitol Police labor committee, declined to speculate on what might be taking the grand jury so long to come to a decision.

"Right now there is a pending investigation. These things take time to ensure that there is a fair result and that justice is done," Burchell said. "It would be unfair to speculate as to the reasons why this matter has not yet been completed, and I believe it would be best to wait until the matter has become public and the grand jury has rendered its decision."

But Maybo and Pasco said the case never should have become a grand jury matter to begin with, but politics got in the way of policing.

"If you hit a police officer, you should be arrested on the spot," Pasco said. "And had the officers involved been left to their own devices, I think that would have been the case. ... The U.S. attorney's office doesn't appear to want to handle this issue on their own and they seem to have punted to the grand jury," Pasco said.

"This should have been dealt with immediately," Maybo agreed. "Regardless of who you are, it's not OK to hit us."

Pasco said the McKinney case, along with the ongoing investigation into the circumstances surrounding the early morning car crash of Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) earlier this month, are being watched closely by the FOP to see if "political policing" is being encouraged on Capitol Hill.

"There is a growing frustration with both the management of the Capitol Police and the U.S. attorney's office over the handling of these two matters and it is really symptomatic of a larger pattern here," he said.

But Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, denied that the McKinney case is being given any sort of special treatment.

"This is an ongoing investigation and we, therefore, cannot respond to those comments," Phillips said. "Suffice it to say, however, as federal prosecutors, we will not permit politics or pressure of any kind to be a factor in our decision making in this or any other case."

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police referred questions about the McKinney case to the the U.S. attorney's office. A spokesman for McKinney declined to comment on Friday about the case or the labor committee claims. 
 
May 22, 2006

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