Capitol Police Ordered Not to Arrest Driver in SOTU Car Chase
The man who engaged police in a high-speed Capitol Hill car chase as the president delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday night was allowed to drive away from the scene after being briefly detained in handcuffs, CQ Roll Call has learned.
Capitol Police officers were ordered by superiors to release the driver of a white Ford Crown Victoria, according to multiple sources. The driver ran seven red lights and raced through streets south of the Capitol at speeds of up to 60 mph, said one source who responded to the scene.
The incident began at approximately 9:30 p.m., according to District Heights, Md., Police Chief Elliott W. Gibson. Officers from the Prince George’s County Police Department were dispatched to the 3700 block of Donnell Drive in Forestville, Md., responding to reports of a 68-year-old male robbed of cash at gunpoint.
A physical description of the suspect was provided to the responding officers, Gibson said in an email, and a short time later police from several jurisdictions observed a vehicle matching the description of the lookout.
Officers tried to pull the vehicle over on Marlboro Pike, but the driver refused to stop when directed by police. Officers were given permission to pursue the vehicle. The pursuit continued down Marlboro Pike through the city of District Heights and into the District of Columbia. District Heights Police, along with officers from multiple jurisdictions, entered the city and continued the pursuit of the robbery suspect.
According to multiple sources at the Capitol, the driver almost struck Capitol Police and Supreme Court Police officers stationed at a barricade at East Capitol and Second streets. The chase continued, with the driver traveling at speeds of up to 60 mph, down E Street Southwest, where it appeared he might take a left onto South Capitol Street, away from the Capitol.
Instead, he turned right onto Washington Avenue Southwest, a street adjacent to the Rayburn House Office Building. The driver found his path blocked by a snow plow that had been parked there to block traffic. He made a U-turn, and came to a stop in traffic around 9:38 p.m.
Four officers from different jurisdictions attempted to remove the driver from the car, eventually tackling him to the ground. He was placed in handcuffs and frisked for weapons. It is unclear which officer placed the suspect in handcuffs.
Around 9:50 p.m., Prince George’s County Police performed a “show-up” on scene to have the victim identify the perpetrator. But the victim could not positively identify the suspect as the perpetrator, according to Gibson.
Police took the suspect’s information and released him on the scene. The president’s speech concluded at 10:10 p.m. According to witnesses, the driver pulled away from the scene about 20 minutes after the speech ended.
When asked whether there was a police report filed for the reckless driving, Capitol Police spokesman Shennell S. Antrobus told CQ Roll Call the car chase did not originate with Capitol Police. He said the chase just happened to be traveling outside Capitol Police jurisdiction, the department’s perimeter, through the Hill.
According to witnesses who were outside, there was a tense confrontation between Capitol Police and the officers from Maryland, who could not make an arrest outside of their jurisdiction. Spokespeople for Prince George’s County Police have declined to answer any questions about the robbery or chase.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Department on Wednesday morning told CQ Roll Call the department did not respond to the incident. Generally, if an offense originated in Maryland, police there are the primary source of contact.
The man did not pose a threat to the Capitol, Capitol Police Lt. Kimberly Schneider said in an email statement. “Particularly on State of the Union night when the USCP’s primary mission to protect the Congress with an operationally enhanced, hardened perimeter is our primary focus.”
Police in Prince George’s County may be putting together a warrant. Gibson said the driver will be arrested later for a “host of traffic violations” that occurred in Maryland.
“He should have been arrested for obvious traffic violations that took place in front of the Capitol,” said Jim Konczos, chairman of the Capitol Police Labor Committee’s executive board, when asked about the events.
Law enforcement is on heightened security during the State of the Union address, and Konczos said he sees “no valid reason that this individual wasn’t arrested.”
During the Navy Yard tragedy in September 2013, Capitol Police officers reacted with shock and embarrassment to allegations that a team of heavily armed first responders had been ordered to “stand down,” instead of responding to the mass shooting. The Capitol Police Board opened an investigation to get to the bottom of those events.
The union rejected the results of the internal review as biased and inaccurate, claiming the Capitol Police had a culture of refusing to get involved in assisting the D.C. law enforcement community, and asked Congress to investigate. For Konczos, the State of the Union car chase had similar overtones.
“There has to be accountability in the Capitol Police,” he said. “We can’t keep having the same incidents occur over and over again.”