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Chaos at the Capitol: Tourists Took Cover as Bullets Flew

Details of Monday's shooting outlined in court complaint; new charges filed against suspect

An employee helps evacuate tourists after a shooting at the Capitol on March 28. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
An employee helps evacuate tourists after a shooting at the Capitol on March 28. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)

A woman with a child raced to hide behind metal detectors while others crouched against walls to avoid gunfire during a chaotic episode of violence on Monday at the Capitol Visitor Center, according to court documents.

At one point, officers used hand signals to guide a boy with his own hands over his ears out of harm’s way as Capitol Police shot and wounded a Tennessee man who they said pointed a weapon — determined after the fact to be a BB gun — at them and disregarded their calls to drop it.

The criminal complaint made public on Thursday laid out a fast-moving series of events that ended with the suspect who had crossed paths with Capitol Police before, Larry R. Dawson, 66, shot multiple times and slumped on the floor. A woman was also slightly hurt.

It began shortly after 2:30 p.m. when Dawson, according to the documents, starting walking  through a metal detector outside the sprawling visitor’s center underneath the Capitol. He went through at least two times – setting it off in both instances – before he was scanned by Officer Quincy Brisco using a wand.

When the detector went off at his waistline, Dawson, with his hands up, suddenly reached for what appeared to be a handgun and attempted to fend off the officer.

Dawson then grabbed the detector and moved further toward the visitor’s center before discarding it on the floor. He then turned around and pointed the weapon at Brisco, who was also pointing his gun as he began moving away from Dawson, the documents said.

A second officer, Jerry Smith, began moving around the metal detectors and into the visitor’s center area and then shot Dawson when he did not respond to verbal commands to drop the weapon. Dawson continued to advance toward Brisco before being shot again by Smith.

The suspect had pointed the weapon at Brisco for 10 to 11 seconds, according to the complaint. After being shot a second time, Dawson “slumped onto the second detector’s exit roller track, dropping his gun on to the rollers. Moments later, Dawson slumped onto the floor.”

Surveillance video shows officers helping adults and children out of the line of fire, “crouched against the (center’s) walls and behind the metal detector equipment to avoid gunfire,” the complaint read.

Officers “used hand signals to usher a boy, with his hands over his ears and standing near the second detector, against the wall and behind the detector equipment.”

Another woman grabbed a child by the hand and raced to crouch behind officers and metal detectors. 

Dawson was later found to be carrying a “Daisy spring-loaded BB gun” that resembled a semi-automatic handgun, the court papers said. Imitation weapons may qualify as dangerous weapons when used during crimes.

Prosecutors have charged Dawson with assaulting, resisting or impeding certain officers or employees with a dangerous weapon and assaulting a federal law enforcement officer, according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Channing D. Phillips and Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa.

A date for Dawson to appear in federal court in Washington has not been set. He was hospitalized following the shooting.

Contact Rahman at or follow her on Twitter at @remawriter

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