DV Archive

Decision Virginia Archive 8/08- 7/12

McDonnell’s role in Capitol protests

with 12 comments

By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

Saturday was a hectic day at the State Capitol. As our Ben Garbarek reported, several dozen people were arrested after a protest. This was another in a series of mass gatherings designed to stop controversial legislation aimed at abortion. This particular gathering was specifically designed to encourage Governor Bob McDonnell to veto legislation that would require an ultrasound before an abortion.

As Ben reported yesterday, the protest was peaceful and for the most part, within the standards set up by the General Assembly when it comes to mass gatherings at the State Capitol. Roughly one thousand people set up at the Bell Tower to send a message to the governor regarding the legislation.

However, things took a turn when a small group of protestors decided to assemble on the steps of the Capitol building. A maneuver that is specifically prohibited by the Department of General Services regulations. Capitol Police asked the Virginia State Police for help in breaking up the situation. The result was a moment that created unpleasant optics. State Police in full riot gear forcibly removing Virginia citizens from a public building. Many of them arrested and temporarily detained.

In the wake of the event, supporters of the protestors were strong in their criticism of State and Capitol Police. They argued that there was no violence or counter protest and that the police presence far too much. Many specifically blamed Governor McDonnell and claimed he “ordered” the police to respond in the fashion that they did.

According to representatives from both the State and Capitol Police, it doesn’t work that way.

“The governor has never directed me in any of my operations at the State Capitol,” said Col. Steve Pike, the Chief of the Capitol Police. “I report to the legislative leaders in the General Assembly.”

Pike told me that he takes personal responsibility for the way his team responded to yesterday’s protests and that their action had nothing to do with the group or their beliefs. He claims that he was simply enforcing laws that have been on the books since 1972.

“It is my responsibility as the Chief of the Capitol Police to protect that property,” he said.  “All those resources are there just in case things don’t go smoothly.”

Richmond Del. Delores McQuinn is among those reacting strongly to the way the Capitol Police handled the situation.

“I have never seen a similar police presence when guns rights advocates assemble on Capitol Square on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday,” she said in a statement. “We must ask the question: what are they so afraid of? Women demanding the right to be treated with respect shouldn’t illicit arrest.”

Despite the fact that a small portion of the group was in violation of the regulation, McQuinn and others argue that it did not require the heavy-handed response by the officers. They believe that there was not the type of threat that required police in riot gear.

Pike believed they had no choice and despite his efforts to ask the group to leave, they resisted.  When they started to assemble on the steps of the Capitol, that was when Pike claims they were forced to take action.

Despite all of the activity, the governor never got involved.

“That was my call,” said Pike. “We gave them 30 minutes to leave without incident. When they refused, we had to step in.’

But the result was a scene that everyone wanted to avoid. Police in full riot gear dragging protestors off the steps before piling them into vans under arrest. Pike said it is standard protocol to have State Police on standby. Corrine Geller of the Virginia State Police confirmed that they were ask to provide support, not by the governor or his Commissioner of Public Safety, but by Pike and his team.

“Our presence is simply to ensure the safety of all individuals on the State Capitol campus – event participants, state employees, public officials, tourists, etc,” said Geller.  “In all security efforts we strive to be ready for any eventuality that may occur, without any undue intrusion or interruption of the lawful event or gathering.”

Obviously this is a topic that elicits strong opinions from both sides. I appreciate any and all feedback, but please attempt to keep your comments civil and thoughtful of others points of view.

Written by Ryan Nobles

March 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm

12 Responses

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  1. Even-handed and objective. This is thoughtful reporting.

    Jeb Hoge

    March 4, 2012 at 6:18 pm

  2. This is SO wrong. Please get your facts straight. There was no reason for assault rifles or riot police pushing us back . I was pushed off a wall. The entirety of capitol grounds is illegal to assemble ( first amendment?) w/o permit outside of the bell tower. We took the steps and the capitol grounds (because it is OURS) with about 800 and your “small group” actually assembled at the bell tower because there were a lot of children and families and the police presence was frightening. Exhibit A shows very clearly that we took the capitol ground en masse http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bCXWHc-elUo. They had riot police on stand by already. exhibit B is what they had in place for a peaceful candle light vigil last week. http://www.the-richmonder.com/2012/02/bob-mcdonnell-deploys-state-police-swat.html. As a journalist why are you not asking the question of why we are not allowed to peaceably assemble in the first place? why violently push citizens off walls and down hill? why rip friends apart that are standing up for us and then detain them on a bus for HOURS (5 for the women), before even being processed, without water and a bucket to pee i? How on earth do you call this keeping the public safe? safe from what? people standing up for themselves against the religious tyrants in office. This is completely incorrect reporting.

    helena

    March 4, 2012 at 6:52 pm

  3. Helena- You are welcome to be upset with rules that have been on the books for more than 40 years. I am not supporting or defending them.. but what I did do is report factual information.

    I did ask the questions you claim that I did not..

    Directly from my report:

    In the wake of the event, supporters of the protestors were strong in their criticism of State and Capitol Police. They argued that there was no violence or counter protest and that the police presence far too much…

    Pike told me that he takes personal responsibility for the way his team responded to yesterday’s protests and that their action had nothing to do with the group or their beliefs. He claims that he was simply enforcing laws that have been on the books since 1972.

    “It is my responsibility as the Chief of the Capitol Police to protect that property,” he said. “All those resources are there just in case things don’t go smoothly.”

    You may not be happy with how Capitol Police responded, but I stand by my reporting.

    Ryan Nobles

    March 4, 2012 at 7:01 pm

  4. i provided you with a video directly countering this statement that is obviously incorrect and you did not respond to in your above post (although i appreciate a response) “However, things took a turn when a small group of protesters decided to assemble on the steps of the Capitol building.” “Despite the fact that a small portion of the group was in violation of the regulation” actually it was 800. Once again the entirety of the capitol grounds is illegal NOT just the steps. How did they choose? You also have no accounts form protesters and only have police accounts so i am not sure how that could ever be accurate without views form all sides. There is a legislators response (which is unfavorable of the police presence) but that is not from a protester standpoint. “Roughly one thousand people set up at the Bell Tower to send a message to the governor regarding the legislation.” This is wrong. It was about 150 to 200 at the bell tower and 800 on “illegal” capitol grounds? How and why did they choose the steps if it was all illegal? Yes people sat down upon dispersal orders because they believed they have the right to be there as citizens. “State Police in full riot gear forcibly removing Virginia citizens from a public building. Many of them arrested and temporarily detained.” They were detained on a bus for 5 hours before being processed with no water and no bathroom. One woman had to pee on the floor as police officers stood outside. We got phone calls from the detained pleading for us to get them water and we asked the police several times and were met with turned backs. Your reporting does not accurately reflect these conditions. This is NOT how citizens acting on their first amendment right to petition their government for a redress of grievances should ever be treated. We are not in a police state. or are we? I am not so sure anymore. You also did not respond to the candlelight vigil photos. really? at a candlelight vigil? Thanks again for responding but please be more accurate in your reporting starting with interviewing ALL sides. I would have loved to have seen some quotes from concerned citizens about why they were there over police officers defending their ridiculous actions.

    helena

    March 4, 2012 at 7:42 pm

  5. Well written. I was there. I stayed down on the walk way because I didnt want to get arrested. I feel that if people were just left alone it would have just all gone away in a peaceful matter. But because “whoever” decided a bunch od young people, mothers, fathers and children were a “threat” it ended up in Virginia once again looking foolish. Im learning alot the past 2 weeks about the government. Nothing about capital hill gets done without Mr McDonnall permission or knowledge. In the past 2 weeks Ive watch legislation that has no right being legislation get cut up in perverse ways. Yes the probe was written out and rape and incest victims are exempt BUT they have to PROVE theyve been raped……do you know how many rapes are reported? I didnt report any of mine (3) to any one but my Priest who made me do act of contrition!

    I dont write well, I dont speak well, but what happens on that hill is criminal and I dont mean on the capital hill steps. Arresting young people, veterans, and men and women that feel “raped” by the government does not heal anything. I dont have the answers. I just feel so sad to know how this all works.Why cant grown up people talk together? I thought the government was to stay out of our personal live. I thought religious beliefs were for church. But Ive been so wrong about so many things.

    I will be turning my efforts to getting people registered to vote. I truly believe my fellow citizens have had enough of this nonsense and we will be showing capital hill how much at election time.

    Bless
    Tam Evans

    Tam Evans

    March 5, 2012 at 1:23 am

    • This is very poor reporting. I was there, and the majority of the protesters (1,000ish) swarmed the capital and the capital steps, then about 20 stayed on the steps risking arrest in the name of democracy. Again, maybe 100 people were at the Bell Tower at a time; everyone else was at the Capital and our children were rolling down the hill at The Capital. I saw a channel 12 camera guy there, and I’m sure he could attest to/prove what I am stating.

      Anna Medinger

      March 5, 2012 at 5:57 pm

  6. […] up the rhetorical heat on the floor today, this time to chastise the Capitol Police for their response to a Saturday protest over anti-abortion legislation. Thirty people were […]

  7. This article raises a number of questions.

    “‘The governor has never directed me in any of my operations at the State Capitol,’ said Col. Steve Pike, the Chief of the Capitol Police. ‘I report to the legislative leaders in the General Assembly.’”

    Col. Pike may not have been directed but has he consulted with the Governor, his staff or one of his political appointees about the unprecedented, and I believe excessive, police presence at recent women’s health rallies?

    Has Col. Pike consulted with Speaker Howell, Senator Norment, House Clerk Nardo or members of their staffs about such matters?

    Why has there not been a similar police presence at events on Capitol Square when it was known that attendees would be carrying firearms?

    I’m not one who often gets lathered up about much, but I have to say, respectfully, what occurred at Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol on Saturday was substantially worse than “unpleasant optics.”

    Jim

    March 5, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    • The Capitol Police have a very tough job. They must balance the need for freedom of expression by groups who have very strong feelings about their topic versus the need for a safe, secure yet open environment. The Capitol Police are often the only visible target of protesters who really want to lash out against legislation – so go after the police. The public does not realize that there are extremists on both sides of this issue – extremists who have a history of fomenting violence and disorder. The Capitol Police also have used the Va State Police for years as a reserve force when the potential for mass disruption exceeds the numerical capability of the Capitol Police. In regards to the police in riot gear, what would you have them wear – a dress? Upset protestors can, will and have injured police officers as emotions and tensions rise. Do not fault the police for protecting themselves. Could things have been done differently? – sure they could (every situation can be critiqued ad nauseum), such as … imagine the protestors actually obeying the police? Does having strong feelings give you a right to break the law – NO. Do you have a right to disobey a lawful order of the police – NO. If the police tell you that you must leave or you will be arrested in 30 minutes – try LEAVING! Policing the Capitol is not a game! Protecting the rights of everyone who wishes to peaceably assemble is what they do every day…but every Capitol has rules designed to maximize the people’s ability to be heard as well as to protect the national treasure that is the Capitol. Unfortunately, let’s blame those who did not seek this confrontation but whose duty it was to enforce the laws and rules provided by the Commonwealth. As far as the Va State Police and their role, they were doing one of the many things that they are good at – providing support to another Va law enforcement agency in time of need.

      Michael Jones

      March 6, 2012 at 12:15 am

      • Very well put sir. I’m glad to see someone comment on how difficult it is to a police officer in these situations. The police did what they needed to ensure the safety of everyone.

        Justin

        March 6, 2012 at 1:47 am

  8. It doesn’t matter how many people were on the steps. The law is the law. Obtain a permit and protest in the area that is LEGAL. COL. Pike did absolutely what was best to ensure the safety of his officers and the public. Was anyone tear gassed? Pepper sprayed? Tased ? Shot? NO! The police don’t need your approval to wear padded gear. Maybe people should read the law before posting comments. The 1st amendment does not say protest anywhere anytime you want on movement property.

    Justin

    March 6, 2012 at 12:05 am

  9. […] this was all planned and executed by Gov. McDonnell, let’s go once more to Ryan Nobles’ report: In the wake of the event, supporters of the protestors were strong in their criticism of State and […]


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