Lawmakers, Capitol Police Board unmoved by union no confidence vote

Most key lawmakers and Capitol Police Board members have not responded to requests for comment

A Capitol Police officer patrols near a dried rose that was placed on a security fence on the West Front of the Capitol on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
A Capitol Police officer patrols near a dried rose that was placed on a security fence on the West Front of the Capitol on Tuesday, February 16, 2021. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted February 16, 2021 at 5:54pm

Acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman and six other top officials received votes of no confidence from the department union regarding their ability to lead the department after the Jan. 6 insurrection, but lawmakers and the Capitol Police Board have yet to signal what comes next.

Of the 657 Capitol Police officers who voted, 611, or 92 percent, voted no confidence in Pittman, who succeeded former Chief Steven Sund when he resigned on Jan. 8.

The rest of the leadership all received no confidence votes: Assistant Chief Chad Thomas (96 percent), acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher (84 percent), Deputy Chief Timothy Bowen (85 percent), Deputy Chief Jeffrey Pickett (91 percent) and Deputy Chief Eric Waldow (64 percent).

Waldow’s leadership was previously scrutinized in a 2019 sexual discrimination trial regarding the termination of former Officer Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis. Waldow admitted in federal court that he failed to follow department rules when he recommended that Sourgoutsis be fired without meeting with her or consulting her supervisor.

Captain Ben Smith, who was on a separate ballot just for officers at the Capitol Division, received a no confidence vote of 97 percent, according to Capitol Police Labor Committee Chairman Gus Papathanasiou. There are more than 1,000 officers in the union, according to Papathanasiou. A Capitol Police human capital plan shows 1,879 total sworn officers as of September 2020.

“We hope Congressional leaders and the entire Capitol Hill community understands that continuing with the current USCP leadership is not an option,” Papathanasiou said in a statement.

But the union’s call for change, which does not force any action, has not elicited a strong response from those who oversee the Capitol Police.

Members of congressional leadership and lawmakers with jurisdiction over the Capitol Police did not respond to a request for comment. This includes Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.; Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.; House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; House Administration Chairperson Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.; House Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and ranking member Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash.; Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo.; and Senate Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Jack Reed, D-R.I., and ranking member Mike Braun, R-Ind.

“This should be a wakeup call for not only USCP leadership, but congressional leadership as well. Rank and file officers can continue to call for a change in the chief of Capitol Police, and it’s certainly their right to do so, but until there is an overhaul of the Capitol Police Board and the way decisions are made, the change these Capitol Police officers deserve isn’t going to happen,” House Administration ranking member Rodney Davis said in an emailed statement. “Too many security decisions are being influenced by politics. That being said, confirming a permanent chief needs to be a top priority so long-term security improvements can be established.”

In the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, Ryan said he supported the termination of both Pittman and Thomas.

None of the three members of the Capitol Police Board — Architect of the Capitol J. Brett Blanton, acting Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Jennifer A. Hemingway and acting House Sergeant-at-Arms Timothy Blodgett — responded to a request for comment.

On Feb. 13, Pittman issued a statement in response to the vote.

“While progress has been made, more work remains,” Pittman said. “And I am committed to ensuring every officer gets what they need and deserve.”

When asked if any officials planned to resign or had their own statement in response to the union vote, Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for the Capitol Police, did not respond.

Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman pays her respects to the late Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick who lies in honor in the Rotunda of the Capitol on February 2, 2021. Officer Sicknick died on Jan. 7 after engaging with rioters on Jan. 6 while protecting the Capitol. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times/Pool)

Five people, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, died as a result of the violence caused by the insurrectionists who invaded the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College victory of President Joe Biden.

Pittman admitted to congressional appropriators last month that her department failed to properly act on intelligence before the Capitol was stormed by the rioters. She said the Capitol Police knew by Jan. 4 that militia and white supremacist groups would pose a security threat to Congress.

Investigations into Jan. 6 are plentiful. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré is in the midst of a Capitol complex security review. He has been working with committees of jurisdiction, Pelosi said in a Feb. 15 letter to Democratic colleagues.

The next step, Pelosi said in the letter, is to establish an independent 9/11-type commission. This includes examining the preparedness and response of the Capitol Police and other law enforcement agencies.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Rules committees will meet Feb. 23 to hear from current and former security officials, including Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee, former Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Michael Stenger, former House Sergeant-at-Arms Paul Irving and Sund. Stenger, Irving and Sund all resigned after the insurrection.

Additionally, the Capitol Police Office of Inspector General is conducting a review, and the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility is investigating several officers.