It was the high-speed chase that nearly crashed last year’s State of the Union address: Several Maryland police cruisers pursued a driver who came close to slamming right into officers at a barricade near the Capitol.
The incident provoked a power struggle among local law enforcement agencies, heightened security concerns and eroded support for the already embattled chief of the Capitol Police, Kim C. Dine.
But nearly a year later, no one seems to know what happened to the man who plowed his white Ford Crown Victoria through red lights at speeds of up to 60 mph without a driver’s license while President Barack Obama was addressing Congress. Capitol Police let the man go after he was briefly detained. Police from District Heights, Md., the suburban department that arrested and charged the driver a few days later, would provide no details on the case, despite repeated requests in the past week. The paper trail simply isn't available, officials at Prince George’s County Courthouse said.
Capitol Police acknowledged the incident had spurred an investigation into its procedures, but gave few details Monday. “The aforementioned traffic incident was a complex situation that the USCP has internally investigated over the last year,” Capitol Police spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson wrote in an email. “While we do not comment on specific security procedures we are constantly assessing and reassessing how we respond to safety threats.” Jamerson said there have been no changes to the department's jurisdiction.
The handling of the case contributed to discontent with Dine, who submitted a resignation letter three months following the chase amid frustrations among rank-and-file officers and the Capitol Police Board's questioning of his leadership after officers were told not to focus on "low value" stops around the Capitol campus and instead focus on thwarting terrorist attacks.
The car chase toward Capitol Hill began the night of Jan. 20, 2015, with a call to the Prince George’s County Police Department around 9:30 p.m.
The call came in response to a report of an armed robbery in suburban Forestville, Md. Responding officers spotted and began to follow the car, which was described at the time as a possible lookout vehicle.
After the driver failed to pull over, police began a pursuit that led into District Heights and eventually into the District of Columbia. The driver passed through 17 traffic lights at speeds of 60 mph, Roll Call reported at the time .
He came to a stop in traffic on a street adjacent to the Rayburn House Office Building around 9:38 p.m. after almost hitting Capitol and Supreme Court Police who were at a barricade.
Four officers from different jurisdictions attempted to remove the driver from the car. He was placed in handcuffs and frisked for weapons, but it was unclear which officer placed the suspect in handcuffs. What followed was an angry confrontation between Capitol Police and Maryland officers who could not make an arrest outside their jurisdiction, according to witnesses at the scene.
The driver, who had no license with him, was ordered to be let go, and drove away about 20 minutes after Obama’s speech ended. Failure to arrest the man by Capitol Police was blamed on the incident occurring outside the department’s jurisdiction.
District Heights Police Chief Elliott Gibson told Roll Call last year his department obtained a traffic warrant and arrested the individual three days later. Much of the detailed account of the incident’s origin in Maryland came from Gibson, including the driver’s appearance before a District Court Commissioner.
Gibson, who leads a force of 12 sworn officers, according to its website, did not provide the driver’s name at the time citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Numerous emails, phone calls and a visit to the District Heights police station this past week yielded no response from Gibson.
District Heights Police Administrative Assistant Amber Waller said in a Jan. 8 email, “To date, I have no information to provide.” At the station, Waller said only email requests for arrest reports get results, but that didn't work, either.
Prince George’s County Police would not identify the driver because he was never charged by that agency, Lt. David Coleman said Monday. He said the driver was not identified by the victim as the robbery suspect, and the robbery is still under investigation.
At the County Courthouse in Upper Marlboro, clerks said they could not pull up the records on the case.
Jamerson, the Capitol Police spokeswoman, said the department does not comment on any individuals not charged by the agency.
“As a matter of policy, the United States Capitol Police does not discuss law enforcement or security procedures,” Jamerson said in an email. “USCP, in concert with our law enforcement partners, is constantly assessing and reassessing our security procedures to keep the Congressional community safe.”
As for Dine, he has indicated his intent to stay on through this month — and the date he plans to step down has not yet been set.
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