WASHINGTON—Faced with a bipartisan furor, the chief of the Capitol Police on Wednesday apologized for ejecting anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and the wife of an influential Republican congressman from the State of the Union address and blamed vague policies for the actions of his officers.
"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol. The policy and procedures were too vague," Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer said. "The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."
Before President Bush entered the House chamber on Tuesday, officers escorted Sheehan out of her seat in the House gallery for wearing a T-shirt inscribed with "2245 Dead. How many more?" Later, while Bush was speaking, officers spotted Beverly Young, wife of Florida Republican Rep. Bill Young, who was sitting six seats away from first lady Laura Bush and wearing a "Support our Troops" sweatshirt. They ushered her out as well.
Sheehan was charged with a misdemeanor. Young wasn't charged.
Gainer said he met with Young, a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee, and his wife to apologize and said he would take steps to avoid similar episodes. He said he left a similar message with Sheehan. He also asked the U.S. attorney's office to drop charges against Sheehan.
Beverly Young, who regularly visits wounded soldiers, said she "was treated like a criminal."
"The chief said Cindy Sheehan was arrested because she wore a T-shirt that had a statement on it, so when they saw me they thought I fell under the same policy, so they should do something with me also.
"Her and I disagree totally," she added. "I don't like what she stands for."
Young's treatment prompted a quick call from her husband to Gainer and an angry denunciation from the House floor on Wednesday.
"I had two lawyers spend all morning looking at the law and at the rules, and we came up with absolutely nothing on which they could base what they did," the congressman said.
Meanwhile, Democrats also objected to Sheehan's treatment.
Writing on her Web log, Sheehan said she obtained a ticket to the speech from Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., but initially had been reluctant to attend.
"I knew George Bush would say things that would hurt me and anger me, and I knew that I couldn't disrupt the address because Lynn had given me the ticket and I didn't want to be disruptive out of respect for her," wrote Sheehan, who blames Bush for the death of her son, Casey, in Iraq.
She said she took off her jacket because she was warm and at that moment a police officer yelled "protester" and ordered her out of the gallery. She said she was handcuffed, fingerprinted and charged. She said she was held for four hours before she was released on her own recognizance.
Link to Sheehan diary entry: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/2/1/31944/23746
U.S. Capitol Police Web site: http://www.uscapitolpolice.gov/pressreleases/2006/pr(underscore)02-01-06.html
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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