- Associated Press - Thursday, January 14, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The California state Senate closed its session to the public on Friday, a day after two women in attendance made threats against lawmakers, while law enforcement in Sacramento and other state cities girded for possible violence in advance of next week’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.

The women who shouted the threats were opposed to mass coronavirus inoculations, not the imminent departure of President Donald Trump, but still spurred Senate leader Toni Atkins to block public access to the Senate gallery.

Members of the public were sent to a committee room to observe the Senate proceedings remotely. Atkins said the Senate’s lawyers signed off on the restriction.

“We are continuing to evaluate the situation and are working on getting additional information, and will do everything we can to keep members, staff, and the public who visit the Capitol, safe,” Atkins said in a statement. The Assembly did not take similar precautions.

The Capitol remains closed to the public because of the coronavirus, except for limited access during legislative hearings, and most employees have been working remotely.

California Department of Human Resources director Eraina Ortega said in an email to state employees that due to the potential for civil unrest and disruptions, “Out of an abundance of caution, all employees in the area should work remotely” through Thursday “unless there is an absolute need for them in the office.”

Atkins would not say if the Senate would seek criminal charges against the women. One yelled that lawmakers would “be the first to go” when “the world collapses” and warned, “We didn’t buy guns for nothing.”

Outside the Capitol a temporary chain link fence went up, bolstering other temporary and permanent barriers, as the California Highway Patrol denied permits for rallies that had been planned there.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday mobilized up 1,000 members of the National Guard to protect the Capitol and other critical infrastructure. He said Friday that they would be deployed to protect “critical assets up and down the state, not just the state Capitol,” though so far it appears no local officials have requested the Guard.

“Rest assured we’ve taken this very, very seriously,” Newsom said.

Other states also have deployed the National Guard, and a very large contingent of Guard members are at the U.S. Capitol after it was attacked and ransacked last week by Trump supporters.

More than 300 members of the California National Guard have been activated to provide support for Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday and will depart for Washington this weekend.

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, whose deputies could be called upon to help protect the state Capitol, told CBS13 that “at least a couple” had attended the rally that preceded the riot.

Attending a presidential rally is constitutionally protected free assembly and is not misconduct, he said in a statement, but the department is investigating if any deputies’ conduct crossed the line.

“If an officer was involved in the riot- - which in my estimation would be incredibly unlikely - there would be extreme repercussions, up to and including termination,” Jones said. “At this point, we have no information or reason to believe that any of our officers were engaged in anything other than the rally.”

His office would not say if those deputies would be barred from protecting the Capitol or other property during pro-Trump events because of a real or perceived conflict of interest.

Law enforcement officials across the state said they were taking precautions and were preparing for any potential civil unrest.

Highway Patrol Commissioner Amanda Ray put her uniformed officers on tactical alert for an indefinite period, which she said allows for the maximum department resources to protect public safety along with state buildings and infrastructure.

The Los Angeles Police Department said it was preparing to go on tactical alert if violence breaks out and has instructed its force of nearly 10,000 officers to be ready to respond in uniform if needed.

Sheriffs in El Dorado, Los Angeles and San Diego counties and district attorneys in Fresno and Sacramento counties said they encourage free speech but would not tolerate any violence or destruction of property.

The state Capitol already has been the site of weekly weekend clashes between Trump supporters and counter-demonstrators, and Sacramento police on Friday released a video montage on its Twitter page describing how the confrontations have escalated.


Associated Press writers Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles, Olga Rodriguez and Juliet Williams in San Francisco, and Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this story.

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