A House staffer took the witness stand in District of Columbia court Thursday, in a case that has raised questions about Capitol Police policy toward protesters.
Outgoing House Oversight and Government Reform staff director Sean McLaughlin testified that he acted in his professional capacity when telling protesters they would be asked to leave if they were disruptive, in a case stemming from an April arrest of D.C. activist Adam Eidinger during a committee markup.
“Generally I’m the person who is in control of the committee room,” McLaughlin, who has worked as staff director for about one year, told the court. He said he is in charge of making sure the committee room remains organized.
Eidinger was arrested during a markup of a committee resolution to block a D.C. law. after police instructed him to leave and he refused. Activists were asked to leave the markup after they stood and shouted in protest. Photographs shown in the trial showed Eidinger seated during the protest, but McLaughlin contended Eidinger stood up briefly and was part of the protest group.
For around an hour, McLaughlin testified as lawyers for the U.S. Attorney’s office sought to prove that Eidinger was part of the protest. Eidinger’s defense attorney, Mike Rothman, argued Eidinger was not one of the protesters and there was no photographic or video evidence that Eidinger participated in the protest.
The visit to the courtroom comes as McLaughlin is set to leave Capitol Hill at the end of the year. On Nov. 3, Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, announced that McLaughlin would be returning to the private sector.
Eidinger’s arrest prompted Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to call on Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine to explain the department’s policies toward demonstrators in congressional hearings. Dine explained the department treats all demonstrators equally, but conceded Eidinger was charged with unlawful entry rather than the typical charge for an unlawful demonstration, because an officer did not personally observe Eidinger protesting.
The arresting Capitol Police officer, Jeffrey Ward, also took the stand late Thursday afternoon. He said in cases like hearings and markups, which include multiple viewpoints, police typically take a cue from the committee chairman or the person in charge of the committee room, such as the staff director, when it comes to removing protesters. McLaughlin had informed Ward that no protesting would be accepted.
Judge Robert E. Morin, presiding judge for the Superior Court’s criminal division, oversaw the hearing, which will continue Monday morning with the defense’s argument. A spokesman for Norton confirmed to CQ Roll Call Thursday that the District’s congresswoman, who was part of the committee markup, is open to serving as one of Eidinger’s witnesses.
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