U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine has clarified the process for removing demonstrators from congressional hearings, ahead of a Thursday court hearing for one activist who alleges he was unlawfully arrested.
In April, local activist Adam Eidinger was arrested during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee markup on a resolution blocking a D.C. law, and charged with "unlawful entry." His arrest prompted Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to ask the Capitol Police for clarification on policies regarding removing demonstrators from congressional hearings. "Please be assured that the USCP strives to treat all visitors to the Capitol equitably and with respect," Dine wrote in a June 19 letter to Norton obtained by CQ Roll Call. "However, when visitors to Capitol Grounds demonstrate in areas where demonstrations are not permitted by statute or are asked to leave hearings by staff or Members of Congress, the Department will enforce the law consistently."
During the April markup, D.C. activists stood up and chanted "D.C. votes no!" but Eidinger and another woman who were seated next to the demonstrators remained seated. Although they did not stand up, Eidinger and the woman were asked to leave the markup, and Eidinger refused, arguing he was not part of the disturbance. After refusing to leave his seat, four USCP officers carried him out of the room.
Dine explained in the letter to Norton that the "preferred arrest charge" for those arrested at committee hearings if an officer witnesses the demonstration is related to crowding, obstructing or incommoding. He explained it is unlawful to demonstrate "within Capitol Buildings" and it is unlawful to continue demonstrating after being warned by a police officer to stop. Dine wrote that "it is clear that an officer must personally observe the conduct prior to arrest."
However, Dine noted that Eidinger is not charged with "crowding, obstructing or incommoding," but rather "unlawful entry." This charge resulted because, as Dine wrote, "apparently no USCP officer personally observed this individual demonstrating and thus he was not warned by any of our officers." Dine wrote that an officer did observe a committee staffer asking Eidinger to leave "several times."
Norton declined to comment Tuesday on the chief's response to her inquiry. But Eidinger said Dine's letter is further evidence that his arrest was not warranted.
"D.C. residents should not get pushed around let alone arrested for simply attending a hearing," Eidinger wrote in an email to CQ Roll Call. "I appreciate Chief Dine's perspective, which is consistent with my view of the incident that the decision to arrest me falls on Congressman [Jason] Chaffetz and his staff who unjustly ordered me to leave a hearing I was lawfully attending."
Eidinger is scheduled to appear at a status hearing in D.C. Superior Court Thursday morning, where a trial date could be set. Eidinger told CQ Roll Call in a May interview that he believed he would be successful in fighting the unlawful entry charge and might even sue the Capitol Police.
But, in an email, Eidinger said he hoped the government would consider dropping the charge.
"There is strong evidence that the government knows about that I was not disruptive in anyway," Eidinger wrote. "I urge prosecutors in my case to not waste my time or money pursing a conviction and instead to seriously think about dropping the charge."
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