Skip to content

Rep. Jamaal Bowman pleads guilty to fire alarm pull, plans to pay fine

Republicans cheer the charge, introduce new censure resolution

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, seen here in June, has admitted to pulling a fire alarm in a House office building on Sept. 30.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, seen here in June, has admitted to pulling a fire alarm in a House office building on Sept. 30. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge Thursday for pulling a fire alarm in a Capitol office building.

Bowman will deliver an apology to Capitol Police and pay a $1,000 fine, under a deal with prosecutors. In return, the charge is expected to be dismissed in three months.

Knowingly and falsely pulling a fire alarm is punishable by a fine or up to six months in prison, according to the District of Columbia criminal code. 

“Congressman Bowman was treated like anyone else who violates the law in the District of Columbia,” a spokesperson for the D.C. attorney general’s office said in a statement. “Based on the evidence presented by Capitol Police, we charged the only crime that we have jurisdiction to prosecute.”

In a statement released Wednesday evening, Bowman said, “I am responsible for activating a fire alarm, I will be paying the fine issued, and look forward to these charges being ultimately dropped.”

Bowman has maintained in the last month that he accidentally triggered the alarm on Sept. 30 in his haste to get to a floor vote on the stopgap funding bill that would pass overwhelmingly — with Bowman and all but one Democrat supporting the measure — and keep the government open through mid-November.

“I was rushing to make a vote, I was trying to get through a door. I thought the alarm would open the door,” the former middle school principal and second-term congressman told reporters at the time. “I didn’t mean to cause confusion … I didn’t know it was going to trip the whole building.”

The door in the rotunda of the Cannon House Office Building, where Bowman’s office is located, leads out onto Independence Avenue Southeast toward the Capitol and is normally open during votes, Bowman told investigators, according to an affidavit filed with the D.C. Superior Court. But on the day of the vote — a rare Saturday when the House was in session — the door was locked.

According to the affidavit, which relied on security footage of Bowman, the lawmaker first tried the handle on one of the double doors, which read “Emergency Exit Only Push Until Alarm Sounds (3 Seconds),” then the second. Bowman then looked to his left, looked at the fire alarm, and pulled it down. Immediately after pulling the alarm, Bowman left the area and was seen on security footage trying two other doors before taking the stairs down to a lower level of the building and eventually exiting, according to the affidavit.

Bowman told investigators after the fact that he heard the alarm sounding, but did not inform anyone that he’d triggered it, despite passing several uniformed Capitol Police officers on his way to vote in the House chamber, according to the affidavit. 

In the aftermath, Republicans seized on the fire alarm incident. Some joked about it, while others called for Bowman’s censure or even for expulsion — an extreme disciplinary action rarely taken since the Civil War. 

Others likened him to the Jan. 6, 2021, rioters, who stormed the Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the last presidential election. Bowman pulling the alarm resulted in an evacuation of the office building, but had no impact on the business on the House floor that was happening at the time. 

“I’m thankful for the quick resolution from the District of Columbia Attorney General’s office on this issue and grateful that the United States Capitol Police General Counsel’s office agreed I did not obstruct nor intend to obstruct any House vote or proceedings,” Bowman said in his Wednesday statement.

Capitol Police pushed back Thursday, saying that contrary to Bowman’s suggestion, they had not made such a determination on the obstruction question. 

“Our General Counsel did not, nor anyone in our Department, make that determination,” a Capitol Police spokesperson said. “We sent the thoroughly investigated case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and prosecutors there did not pursue it.”

While falsely pulling a fire alarm is a misdemeanor, obstructing an official proceeding would be a federal felony charge.

Michigan Republican Rep. Lisa McClain introduced a censure resolution on Wednesday that would strip Bowman of all committee assignments for the remainder of the 118th Congress. And House Administration Chairman Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., cheered the charge Wednesday, while calling on the Ethics Committee to further pursue the matter.

“Rep. Bowman’s excuse does not pass the sniff test. After pulling the fire alarm, Rep. Bowman fled the scene, passed by multiple Capitol Police officers and had every opportunity to alert USCP of his mistake,” Steil said.

Bowman, who appeared in D.C. Superior Court on Thursday to enter his plea, has said he is eager to move on from the incident. 

“I think we all know that Republicans will attempt to use this to distract everyone from their mess, but I look forward to putting this behind me and to continue working hard to deliver for New Yorkers,” Bowman said in his statement.

Recent Stories

Democrats ask insurers to meet contraceptive coverage mandate

Greatest Generation Coin will help preserve World War II Memorial for future generations

Lawmakers press to avoid funding pitfall for public defenders

Supreme Court sounds skeptical of cross-state air pollution rule

Another year, another disaster aid gap as funding deadline nears

Tall order for lawmakers to finish spending bills next week