Tuesday, January 30, 2007

U.S. Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse met privately yesterday with a senator and denied that he ordered officers not to arrest war protesters who painted slogans on the sidewalk near the Capitol.

Chief Morse conceded shortcomings in the police response Saturday at the protest against the Iraq war, however, and vowed to revise plans for managing demonstrations, Sen. Wayne Allard said after meeting with the chief.

“There was no order to retreat [or] not arrest anybody,” said Mr. Allard, Colorado Republican. “He had ordered them that if they saw anybody breaking the law, they were to arrest them. … They did not see them paint the graffiti.”

The chief’s pledge to review department policy follows public complaints that protesters painted anarchist symbols and slogans on the Capitol sidewalk Saturday right in front of Capitol Police officers.

The graffiti included the phrases “all cops are pigs” and “you can’t stop us,” officers said.

Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a department spokeswoman, said a band of protesters splintered from the tens of thousands on the Mall, mixed with visitors exiting the Capitol and in the confusion spray-painted the sidewalk.

However, some officers said the order for “hands off” protesters came from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat.

“The word going around is that [the order] came from Pelosi’s office,” an officer told The Washington Times. “The order was not to interfere with the protesters.”

Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said the speaker, who was in Afghanistan on Saturday, had not communicated with police about the demonstration. “No one from our office had any contact with police about response to [protesters],” he said.

He suggested conservative groups were spreading the story about Mrs. Pelosi’s involvement.

Capitol Police officials could not verify whether any orders originated from the speaker’s office.

“There are a lot of rumors going around, and I can’t confirm that,” Sgt. Schneider said. “There was a set of decisions that were made at the time, based on the circumstances.”

Those decisions were made by “law-enforcement officers on the scene,” she said.

She also said officers discovered the graffiti after a crowd cleared from the west entrance to the building.

A police union leader contradicted the official account of events.

“The officers, who did their job both professionally and courageously, were ordered to withdraw by their officials and let the demonstrators have the area where the graffiti was later discovered,” Andy Maybo, chairman of the U.S. Capitol Police Fraternal Order of Police, told members in an e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

“We, as officers, take our duties and responsibilities very seriously and are disappointed that no arrests were made,” he said. “But we must follow the orders of our officials even when we may disagree with such orders. We are just thankful that no one was injured.”

Mr. Allard said that he was satisfied with Chief Morse’s explanation that the officers did not see vandals writing on the sidewalk.

“From what I can tell, they worked in a responsible way,” he said.

Leaders of the demonstrations, including peace activist Cindy Sheehan, say Democrats owe their election gains to the anti-war movement and now must bow to demands to end the Iraq war. And Democrats have shown tolerance of such protests since taking control of Congress earlier this month.

At a hearing yesterday into whether Congress has the authority to end the war by cutting off funding, a large group of people wearing anti-war T-shirts and buttons repeatedly shouted down senators delivering opening remarks.

One woman shouted that she wanted to know why President Bush’s daughters are not being sent into battle. Later, a row of women stood and hoisted a hand-made banner calling for an end to the war.

Capitol Police were summoned, but Democrats running the hearing permitted the protesters to remain, despite the disruptions.

c Charles Hurt contributed to this report

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