Officer Indicted in Fires

Charge Based on One Blaze

Posted December 5, 2007 at 6:45pm

A federal grand jury handed down an indictment on Wednesday against a Capitol Police officer for the series of restroom fires that burned in Senate office buildings this fall.

Jurors issued an indictment of one misdemeanor count of “willfully injuring or committing any depredation against any property of the United States” against Officer Karen Emory, the U.S. attorney’s office announced.

Emory, 36, already has been suspended by the department. She faces up to one year in jail. Her arraignment has not been scheduled.

A call to the number listed for Emory’s home in Waldorf, Md., went unanswered Wednesday night.

No injuries were reported to have been caused by the fires, which mostly burned in women’s restrooms in the Dirksen and Hart Senate office buildings. Only a few of the fires required evacuation, and all were quickly extinguished by Capitol Police or the District of Columbia Fire Department.

The indictment stems from a Nov. 2 incident in which toilet paper was set on fire inside a women’s restroom in the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The fire prompted the evacuation of the Dirksen building after an Architect of the Capitol employee pulled a manual alarm, but it was quickly extinguished by security officials.

Emory is listed as the responding officer on an incident report for a fire that was reported just a few minutes later in the Hart building.

According to that report, Emory checked the women’s restroom near Room 211 of the Hart building at about 8 a.m. and found that two of the toilet paper rolls in the handicapped stall were burned. Investigators were called and collected evidence.

Nearly a dozen small blazes are known to have burned in women’s restrooms this fall, and nearly all were set in restrooms in the Dirksen or Hart buildings.

The first blaze was reported on Sept. 26 in the Hart building; another Hart restroom fire took place on Sept. 28.

But those fires were considered random incidents until Oct. 3, when at least three fires burned in restrooms in both Hart and Dirksen.

The only fire known not to have taken place in a women’s restroom happened on Oct. 31, when a fire was set in the basement of the Dirksen building. Dirksen was evacuated, and security officials quickly extinguished the blaze.

No fires are known to have burned in women’s restrooms since Emory was suspended last month.

In a joint release, U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor and Capitol Police Chief Phillip Morse praised the work of Capitol Police Detective Nettie Watts for her work as the lead investigator on the case. U.S. Attorney Angela Schmidt oversaw the indictment and will be prosecuting the case, Taylor also announced.

“The successful completion of this investigation is another example of the Capitol Police and Chief Morse’s dedication to the safety of the roughly 20,000 people who live and work on Capitol Hill,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch. “I appreciate the difficulty they had in investigating one of their own and commend them on wrapping up quickly.”

While it is “unfortunate that this happened,” House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) is satisfied that the Capitol Police acted properly in their investigation of the fires, spokesman Kyle Anderson said.

“The chairman and Members of the committee are pleased that they jumped right on the issue,” Anderson said.

Fire worries were revived Wednesday morning when the Longworth House Office Building was evacuated after a fire alarm went off.

That turned out to be caused by an electrical malfunction, and Members, staffers and visitors were soon allowed to go back inside.