Cops Praise Handling of Fatal Shooting

Posted July 20, 2009 at 6:28pm

Before last Wednesday, it had been almost 11 years since a Capitol Police officer was forced to fire his gun on duty.

There have been a few close calls; in 2006, for example, a man ran into the Capitol carrying a gun before being caught by a few House employees.

But during the past decade, most officers have spent their time quietly guarding the Capitol, doling out traffic tickets, arresting protesters and giving directions to countless tourists. And in between, all have waited and trained for the inevitable.

Shortly after 5 p.m. July 15, two officers did what most of their 1,700 colleagues have never done: pulled out their guns and fired. They killed Kellen Anthony White, 27, who police officials say fired at the officers after an erratic car chase.

The next day, in an unrelated incident, an off-duty Capitol Police officer was shot during a shootout with a man in Prince George’s County. No one was killed, and the officer was released from the hospital Friday.

Capitol Police spokeswoman Sgt. Kimberly Schneider acknowledged it was an unusually eventful week for the department. But she pointed out that the ebb and flow is part of an officer’s training.

“As evidenced by last week’s events, sometimes our routine duties become high-profile incidents, and at other times they are quite low-key,— she said in an e-mail. “This is all a part of our mission.—

Indeed, Capitol Police officers spend far more time standing still than their colleagues in other law enforcement agencies. But they are also guarding one of the nation’s top terrorist targets.

On Monday, several officers said last week’s incidents further cemented in their minds the possibility of a terrorist attack or violent crime on their watch.

The hope, one officer said, is that in such a situation, the hours of training will kick in. Another said such training is “embedded— in every officer.

Several also said they were impressed with how the department handled the aftermath and comforted by the support that followed.

The Capitol Police Labor Committee — which once considered a vote of no confidence in Police Chief Phillip Morse — applauded the department’s reaction.

“The department handled them both terrifically, from the way they supported the officers to how they quickly assessed the situation,— union Chairman Matt Tighe said.

Hill staffers had a different reaction. Some complained that the department was slow to alert those in the Capitol to the situation unfolding about a block away. Many learned of it on television.

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer has apologized for the lag but also said he was more concerned with ensuring that the Capitol community was safe.

His office also has had little practice in handling such situations. Violence in and near the Capitol has been uncommon.

Only three officers have been killed on duty in the Capitol Police’s recent history. Sgt. Christopher Eney was accidentally shot in 1984 during a training exercise, while Officer Jacob Chestnut and Detective John Gibson were killed in 1998 when Russell Weston Jr. stormed into the Capitol and started shooting.

Wednesday’s shooting was the first involving on-duty Capitol Police officers since 1998. Neither appears related to terrorism. Weston was a paranoid schizophrenic, while White was once a football player at the University of Massachusetts who had a long list of drug-related arrests.

Off-duty shootings are slightly more common. The last one was on July 9, 2007, when an off-duty Capitol Police officer shot and killed a man after catching him tampering with a motorcycle. According to a press release, the suspect “produced a handgun forcing the officer to utilize his service weapon striking the subject multiple times.—