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Driver in SOTU Police Chase Had No License, Police Say

The driver was detained briefly and then released, according to police. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)
The driver was detained briefly and then released, according to police. (Hannah Hess/CQ Roll Call)

An officer on the scene of the State of the Union night car chase through Capitol Police jurisdiction says the man briefly handcuffed by police, then allowed to drive away did not have a driver’s license.  

Capitol Police officers and a pursuing officer from the city of District Heights, Md., witnessed the driver of the white Ford Crown Victoria violating multiple traffic laws  blowing through red lights, racing around the Hill at speeds of 60 mph  then resisting arrest. However, no arrest was made. The stop took place on Washington Avenue Southwest, adjacent to the Rayburn House Office Building, but outside of the “hardened perimeter” the Capitol Police department established to protect the president, Congress, Supreme Court justices and other dignitaries attending the Jan. 20 address. The department maintained Wednesday that the driver was not a threat to the Capitol.  

Capitol Police did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday.  

District Heights Police Chief Elliott Gibson said the pursuing officer from his department  who began chasing the white sedan because it matched descriptions of the lookout car in a gunpoint robbery reported that speeds reached 80 mph. In an email to CQ Roll Call, Gibson said the officer is requesting warrants from Maryland District Court for numerous violations of the state’s traffic laws. The action is pending.

“For the life of me, I don’t understand how you can let someone who should have been arrested for reckless endangerment and reckless driving [go],” said Jim Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee’s executive board.

The department has an operating strength of 1,775 sworn officers, plus 370 civilians, and for State of the Union night, Konczos estimates up to 1,600 Capitol Police were on duty. He rejects the argument that the department didn’t have the resources to make the arrest.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., told CQ Roll Call she was aware of the incident, is looking into it and will be talking to Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine about it. Wasserman Schultz serves as ranking member on the Appropriations subcommittee that sets the Capitol Police’s budget. In the fiscal 2015 spending bill approved by Congress in December, the agency was funded at $348 million  an increase of $9.5 million over the previous year, according to the House Appropriations Committee.  

Fellow Legislative Branch appropriator Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev., said he is interested in “getting a little depth” on how Capitol Police operate and their protocols for traffic crimes, in the wake of the chase. For Amodei, who prosecuted crimes as an Army Judge Advocate General Corps officer and assistant U.S. attorney, the chase raises questions about the Capitol Police’s jurisdiction.  

“The other thing that pops into my mind is what made this different than the young lady who got shot up here last year,” Amodei said, of the Oct. 3, 2013, deadly shooting of Miriam Carey. She engaged in “a series of some pretty serious traffic offenses, but nothing else that we know of. … So anyhow, that’s something we’ll look into.”  

Senate Rules and Administration Chairman Roy Blunt, R-Mo., wants to examine the incident.  

“This is obviously a very serious matter, and Chairman Blunt and his staff are taking a very close look to get to the bottom of it,” spokeswoman Amber Marchand told CQ Roll Call.  

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report

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