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Gyrocopter Lands Amid Capitol Police Tumult

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

After arresting the pilot of a small gyrocopter that touched down Wednesday on the West Front, many Capitol Police were left wondering, "What's next?"  

Hours before Florida man Doug Hughes landed his small aircraft, officers learned new details about a major shakeup underway among the department's top brass. In an official memo obtained by CQ Roll Call, Chief Kim C. Dine notified the force he had chosen Deputy Chief Matt Verderosa to replace outgoing Assistant Chief Daniel Malloy, effective May 1.  

Still uncertain is Dine's own future with the department. The chief has submitted a resignation letter to the Capitol Police Board, following reports of conflict within the agency. Amid that news — first reported by CQ Roll Call — circulating, Hughes' flight plan was reported to Capitol Police by the Tampa Bay Times around 1 p.m., according to reports, approximately 23 minutes before the landing and subsequent lockdown of the West Front. Whether an intelligence failure occurred is unclear. After the landing, Capitol Police did not address the throng of reporters assembled outside the perimeter of the site, instead communicating via emailed statements. The department did not answer CQ Roll Call's inquiry about the Tampa Bay Times' reporting . The paper worked with Hughes on a video about his plan to draw attention to campaign finance law by delivering letters about the topic to Congress, via gyrocopter, in knowing violation of the no-fly zone around the Capitol.  

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Frank J. Larkin, chairman of the Capitol Police Board, referred all inquiries to the Capitol Police.  

The Radio-Television Correspondents' Association sent an email to Dine saying it was disappointed he didn't address the media.  

Dine responded, that "because we continued to put out information as the event unfolded, there was not much I could ... address at the time which had not already been released."  

"The lack of transparency by the Capitol Police regarding this incident leaves a lot of questions unanswered and concerns for public safety. We respectfully ask that a member of your team be made available as soon as possible to add an official perspective as to what happened and where things go from here," Fred Haberstick of C-SPAN, chairman of the RTCA, said in the email.  

"It is frightening that that could happen and you have to be constantly on guard," Rep. Gregg Harper told CQ Roll Call. The Mississippi Republican, a member of the House Administration Committee, said it was "still a little too early to jump to a set conclusion" on how police should have addressed the event, such as having the aircraft shot down.  

"I think it's important that you find out all the details, see if the response that happened was the appropriate response," Harper said. "I just know that it's a great cause for alarm. The question will be, did they have the opportunity to shoot it down and make a decision based upon the facts at that point?"  

The disturbing security breach came four days after jarring reports of shots fired on the Lower West Terrace, a suicide  that triggered a lockdown and suspicious package investigation.  

Police also were on edge about an April 9 car chase that ended in a crash and shooting on Washington's busy H Street corridor. A Capitol Police patrol unit jumped in to assist local police officers pursuing the suspect in a Census Bureau shooting when the chase neared the Third Street Tunnel, according to sources, but the officer was ordered to stop and return to the Capitol minutes before the suspect turned his gun on police.  

The incident fueled frustrations among officers who allege a "culture of micromanaging" and lack of mutual aid under the leadership of Dine.  

"The USCP's primary responsibilities include the protection of Members of Congress, employees, visitors, and the facilities of the Capitol Complex. While the USCP consistently provides mutual support to our partner law enforcement agencies, we also assess the impact to out primary jurisdiction and law enforcement responsibilities on the U.S. Capitol Grounds," department spokesman Shennell Antrobus said in an email to CQ Roll Call, responding to allegations Capitol Police's role in the wild car chase.  

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