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House Ethics panel drops probe of Jamaal Bowman over fire alarm

After a censure in the House, there is little left to do, say panel leaders

Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., is seen in the Capitol before being censured by the House on Dec. 7. In September, Bowman had set off a fire alarm when there was not an emergency.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., is seen in the Capitol before being censured by the House on Dec. 7. In September, Bowman had set off a fire alarm when there was not an emergency. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The House Ethics Committee won’t pursue an investigation of New York Democratic Rep. Jamaal Bowman for setting off a fire alarm in a Capitol office building last fall ahead of a high-pressure vote on government funding.

Further review of the incident would be “moot,” said Chairman Michael Guest, R-Miss., and ranking member Susan Wild, D-Pa., in a statement released Thursday. They cited a December censure of Bowman by his House colleagues and the fact that he pleaded guilty in October to a misdemeanor charge.

“In light of the House’s intervening censure of Representative Bowman, the Committee determined that further review of Representative Bowman’s conduct would be moot. The Committee has separately confirmed that Representative Bowman has complied with the relevant terms of his deferred sentencing agreement,” the statement said. 

According to that agreement, Bowman paid a $1,000 fine and wrote a letter of apology to Capitol Police in exchange for the charge being 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.

In December, 214 of his House colleagues, including three Democrats, voted to censure Bowman, a largely symbolic reprimand that has become increasingly common in recent years.

Bowman’s case was referred to House Ethics on Dec. 11 by the Office of Congressional Ethics, an independent, nonpartisan entity charged with reviewing member misconduct. After interviewing Bowman earlier that month, the OCE determined there was “substantial reason to believe Rep. Bowman willfully and knowingly gave a false alarm in the District of Columbia,” according to a report released Thursday with the House Ethics statement.

The OCE did not find substantial evidence that Bowman obstructed or attempted to impede an official House proceeding — a more serious charge.

Bowman has taken responsibility for triggering the alarm but maintained it was an accident.

Capitol Police security cameras caught Bowman attempting to exit a pair of locked doors in the Cannon House Office Building on Sept. 30. He tried each once, turned to his left, pulled the fire alarm and then quickly left the area, according to a Capitol Police affidavit. 

Bowman proceeded across Independence Avenue to the Capitol, where he voted, along with most other Democrats, in favor of the stopgap spending bill that Republicans had just introduced. 

In the immediate aftermath, Bowman claimed the incident was a mistake and that he thought pulling the alarm would open the doors. Signs posted above the push bars of the doors said “emergency exit only” and “push until alarm sounds (3 seconds) door will unlock in 30 seconds.”

In a December interview with investigators from the OCE, a transcription of which was released with the office’s findings, Bowman described his single-minded focus trying to get to the vote.

“I’m rushing. I’m trying to get to a vote. I don’t want to be late. You know, it’s pretty frantic. I’m thinking, if I push on the door, the door would open and then make like a — a brief sound and then close. And then the sound goes away. That was in my head at the time,” Bowman told the OCE.

The incident has dogged Bowman, who is trying to fend off a primary challenge from New York Democrat George Latimer, for months.

Some Republicans called for Bowman’s expulsion from Congress and compared his actions to those of the rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, beating their way past police in an attempt to stop the certification of election results.

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