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Capitol Police knew security precaution lapsed ahead of Paul Pelosi attack

The agency had wanted a police presence outside the San Francisco home when then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn't there

Police take measurements around then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home after her husband Paul Pelosi was assaulted with hammer inside their San Francisco residence on Oct. 28, 2022.
Police take measurements around then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi's home after her husband Paul Pelosi was assaulted with hammer inside their San Francisco residence on Oct. 28, 2022. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Capitol Police had arranged to have a police presence continuously outside the San Francisco home of then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi when she was not there, but the agency knew that security precaution lapsed for months ahead of the October 2022 break-in and attack on her husband, Paul Pelosi.

The agency for a time contracted with the San Francisco Police Department to have at least a vehicle outside the Pelosi residence, but the SFPD ended that arrangement for “protective services” in 2021, an internal Capitol Police memo reviewed by CQ Roll Call states.

The Capitol Police, which is ultimately responsible for the safety of the speaker, took some steps to restart the SFPD post at the house over the course of the next year, according to that internal memo. But the department only “reestablished” the “24/7 residential coverage” after the attack that left Paul Pelosi lying in a pool of blood with a skull fracture.

There is no way to know how the events that night might have unfolded differently if a vehicle or uniformed officer had been posted outside. Such a post may be a deterrent for vandals and attackers, and an officer might notice nefarious activity or provide an almost immediate response in an emergency, security experts say.

San Francisco officers entered the front door around 19 minutes after the attacker broke through a glass patio door and about six minutes after Paul Pelosi hung up with a 911 dispatcher, according to timelines from authorities and prosecutors. Authorities said the attacker told officers he planned to hold Nancy Pelosi hostage and threatened to break her kneecaps, but she and her protective detail were in Washington.

The Capitol Police, which is responsible for protection of members of Congress and particularly the speaker and other leaders, completed an “Incident After-Action Review” of the attack that has not been made public.

An internal memo about that review to Chief J. Thomas Manger reveals new details and how the department cast blame for the missing police presence on long-standing policies, budget shortfalls and unresponsive San Francisco officials.

Streets of San Francisco

The Capitol Police provides around-the-clock protection for the two members of Congress in the presidential line of succession: the speaker and the Senate president pro tempore.

Other lawmakers or their immediate family can get details based on threats if the Capitol Police Board deems it necessary. In the past, the board has included members of the Jan. 6 select committee and members of both chambers and both parties.

Historically, personal protection has not been provided to family members of those lawmakers if there isn’t a specific threat, according to the January memo from then-acting assistant chief Jason Bell about the internal review.

The protective detail for Nancy Pelosi traveled with her and there was no protective detail on her San Francisco home when she was not there.

The Capitol Police had not requested approval for a protective detail for Paul Pelosi, because there were no threats “that would justify, based on our current staffing levels, a plan to extend coverage for action,” Bell wrote.

But the department did reach out to San Francisco to request assistance for protection of the Pelosi home after “protests and vandalism” there, Bell wrote.

In early January 2021, news outlets reported that political messages had been spray-painted on the Pelosi garage door, and that a severed pig’s head and fake blood had been left on the premises.

At the time, other violent threats on Nancy Pelosi kept coming, particularly after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. Some rioters that day reportedly sought to find Nancy Pelosi and kill her, and others who threatened to kill her in the following days have been convicted.

Other members of Congress faced violence or threats around the same time, along with Supreme Court justices and other government officials, such as a federal judge in New Jersey whose son was killed in an attack on her home.

Lawmakers were discussing legislation to make it more difficult for attackers to find their information online.

‘No results’

But the SFPD terminated “protective services” at the Pelosi home in September 2021 until a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, was executed, Bell wrote.

The Capitol Police “promptly signed the SFPD MOU on September 16, 2021, and returned it to the SFPD for execution,” Bell wrote. “The USCP also issued full payment to the SFPD for past services rendered.”

“In the months that followed, the USCP repeatedly, on no less than a monthly basis, reached out to the SFPD for an update on the MOU with no results,” Bell wrote.

Neither the Capitol Police nor San Francisco police provided more information about the memorandum of understanding, any concerns about the payment or any other details about why the protection was not continued.

The Capitol Police memo doesn’t account for why officials at the agency didn’t come up with another plan to put a car outside the Pelosi home until an agreement was worked out, especially because the Capitol Police has a field office in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Police Department, in a written response to questions, said Capitol Police is ultimately responsible for protecting members and their families and that there was no fixed post outside of the Pelosi home when the attack happened.

“At the time that Mr Pelosi was attacked, there was no MOU between the SFPD and the US Capitol Police, and, because of this, there was no fixed post assignment outside of the Pelosi home,” Sergeant Kathryn Winters, a San Francisco Police Department spokesperson, said. “The US Capitol Police is the agency that is responsible for providing security for members of Congress and their families.”

Details of the attack

Paul Pelosi was alone at the San Francisco home on Oct. 28, 2022, the night a man arrived at the back patio just after 2 a.m., Bell’s memo states. The commercial alarm was not armed and a camera system, installed by the Capitol Police in 2019, was not actively monitored the night of the assault, according to Bell.

“The USCP camera system was designed to support the detail while the Speaker is at the residence and not actively monitored unless she was present,” Bell wrote to Manger.

Officers from the San Francisco Police Department arrived at the home and saw both men gripping a hammer, according to the SFPD’s statement. San Francisco officers jumped to subdue David DePape after he hit Paul Pelosi with the hammer, the department said.

At 2:30 a.m., a sergeant from the Capitol Police command center in Washington noticed emergency activity and alerted the Dignitary Protection Division, which is made up of agents who protect leadership, according to Bell’s account. Then, at 2:40 a.m., the command center reviewed archived footage, and at 2:58 a.m. the command center notified the deputy on duty.

The command center notified the House Sergeant-at-Arms at 3:15 a.m., a Dignitary Protection Division agent arrived at the Pelosi residence at 3:50 a.m. and another got to the hospital where Paul Pelosi was being treated at 3:55 a.m, according to Bell’s account.

Other Capitol Police agents were sent from Washington to investigate and provide Paul Pelosi with a security detail, Bell wrote.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent who protected former President Barack Obama, said that a car posted outside a residence can provide a deterrent effect.

“Anytime that you have uniformed law enforcement officers present, they act as a deterrent for somebody acting nefariously,” Wackrow said. “If it’s a car and an officer there, it’s a visual deterrent that could preclude some actors from actually engaging in some sort of hostile activity.”

He cautioned that a car in the front of the house would not necessarily deter someone who enters through the rear of the home and smashes through the back door, and he noted that a car posted outside the residence could boost the visibility for potential bad actors.

Police response

Bell listed several “enhancements” that had been implemented since the attack, in addition to a security detail given to Paul Pelosi. Among them: the Capitol Police “reestablished an MOU with the SFPD for 24/7 residential coverage.”

The Capitol Police, in response to a list of detailed questions, said the attack on Paul Pelosi “fast tracked improvements” to help protect lawmakers and their families.

“After January 6, the Department worked around the clock to enhance security around the Capitol Complex — changes that should have been addressed many years ago. Similarly, the San Francisco attack fast tracked improvements that will ensure the Members of Congress and their families are better protected during a volatile time in America,” Paul Starks, a Capitol Police spokesperson, said.

“For safety reasons, it would be foolish for us to tell everyone what we do and all the resources that we are putting into protecting the Members and anyone who would disclose security sensitive details would be endangering the Congress and their families,” Starks said.

Aaron Bennett, a spokesperson for Pelosi, declined comment.

Bell wrote that the agency completed residential assessments for Pelosi’s three residences. Those are in Washington, Napa, and San Francisco. Capitol Police has dedicated staff in the command center to actively monitor the cameras at the Pelosi residence and sent additional Investigation Division agents to work with the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI.

The Capitol Police has been plagued by staffing issues, including among the Dignitary Protection Division agents and for the agents who track down threats against members. The staffing level for those sharp dressed agents in suits who guard congressional leaders has been described by Manger as “unsustainable.”

Manger has called for more funding for the section of the department that vets threats against lawmakers, which have increased sharply in the aftermath of the 2020 election.

Bell, who has since been elevated from acting status to assistant chief of police for protective and intelligence operations, wrote in the January memo that the department has held several meetings and discussions with partner agencies to discuss residential security and “review our overall protection models.”

“It should be noted that the USCP historically has not been staffed comparable to other agencies with protectees in the presidential line of succession,” Bell wrote.

A 2023 omnibus spending bill included funding to hire additional Dignitary Protection Division agents, expand the field office program and “develop a residential security program for Congressional leadership,” Bell wrote.

Bell also wrote that he had presented recommendations to the Capitol Police Board and appropriators: “I believe if these recommendations are adopted and funded, the USCP will be able to increase staffing and provide much needed enhancements to the protection of Members and their families.”

This week the House is expected to consider the fiscal 2024 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill, which would give the agency $781 million, a 6 percent increase over fiscal 2023.

DePape’s federal criminal trial in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is scheduled to begin Nov. 9. He is charged with attempted kidnapping of a federal officer or employee and assault on an immediate family member of a federal official.

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