Capitol Police Talk Man Off Ledge

Posted July 22, 2008 at 6:45pm

Faced with a rare occurrence on the Congressional campus, Capitol Police officers successfully and peacefully ended an eight-hour standoff in the Hart Senate Office Building, where a man threatened to jump to his death Monday night.

Yuan Fang, 66, of Flushing, N.Y., climbed over the glass wall surrounding the building’s atrium and onto a narrow marble ledge about 5:45 p.m. Monday, just in front of the office of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). The man stood with his back to the atrium, communicating with police through a Mandarin translator until about 2 a.m., when he climbed to safety.

This incident was the first of its kind in recent memory, according to several long-serving officers. Though the department has a crisis-negotiation team on staff to deal with situations of this nature, it is rarely used.

“There are certainly plans in place to deal with individuals attempting suicide, and our response is largely event-driven or situation-based,” Sgt. Kimberly Schneider wrote in an e-mail. “What happened yesterday was a highly unusual occurrence.”

Fang, whose motives are still unknown, was charged with disorderly conduct and transported to Capitol Police headquarters for processing. By Tuesday afternoon, he was no longer in the department’s custody, though Schneider was uncertain where he was taken.

“A lot of times we will make the determination in a case like his [and] see if we can get him admitted for some mental evaluation,” she said.

During the incident Monday night, dozens of Capitol Police officers flooded the building, which was enveloped in an eerie quietness as staffers continued to leave for the day as if nothing extraordinary was happening.

Those working on the seventh floor were first asked to stay in their offices before being escorted out through police-designated elevators and exits. Police eventually restricted the seventh floor and the atrium to emergency personnel while negotiations were in progress. From across the atrium, Fang could be seen dressed in a khaki coat and pants, standing on the ledge facing officers as they spoke with him.

“We constantly talked to him, working with him, trying to convince him to swing his leg over the rail and come back to the correct side,” Schneider said. “It was a combination of good, methodical police work with a tremendous amount of patience and him just getting tired.”

The Hart Building, the largest of the Senate’s three office buildings, was completed in 1982. A giant mobile-stabile sculpture by Alexander Calder hangs from the atrium’s ceiling and serves as the centerpiece.

Emily Yehle contributed to this report.