A supervisor at the Capitol Visitor Center allegedly picked up a bag of white powder labeled “anthrax” on Saturday morning, carried it through Exhibition Hall and flushed it down the toilet without calling police.
Throughout the incident, visitors milled around the CVC, unaware of the potential danger, according to several sources. CVC officials finally called the Capitol Police an hour or so later.
Officers didn’t find anything hazardous or dangerous, according to police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. But now the department is investigating the incident — and CVC employees are angry at what they see as latent mismanagement.
“It’s a huge lapse in the judgment of the management who decided not to call Capitol Police,” said a Capitol guide who was working that Saturday. “It’s not that surprising. … We don’t have that much confidence in them.”
Saturday’s incident began when a visitor alerted a visitor assistant to the suspicious bag of white power. The visitor assistant found the bag of white powder under a bench in the CVC’s Exhibition Hall, where visitors can view displays on the House and Senate.
The assistant then called the supervisor on duty. But instead of calling police — as is the normal procedure — the supervisor left the scene to put on some gloves and then disposed of the bag himself.
At 10:15 a.m., Mark Turnbull — the CVC supervisor — called police, according to a Capitol Police incident report. The Hazardous Devices Unit responded and cleared the scene at 1:04 p.m.
Schneider declined to comment on the particulars of the investigation because it is still pending. But three hours is an unusually long time to clear a suspicious package; the HDS responds to several reports of suspicious packages each week and clears most in a matter of minutes.
The Capitol guide said that when police arrived on Saturday, they sequestered Turnbull in Exhibition Hall for more than an hour for questioning. The incident has added fire to CVC employees’ efforts to form a union under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The Capitol Police Labor Union is also disturbed by how CVC officials handled a potential biological threat. The CVC is an extension of the Capitol — and Members have been the target of anthrax before, most notably when anthrax letters were mailed to lawmakers in 2001.
“From our standpoint, obviously we aren’t happy,” union Chairman Jim Konczos said. “Because if that was something, you basically just endangered everyone in the CVC and the Capitol.”