March 29, 2006 Capitol Hill police incident

March 29, 2006 Capitol Hill police incident

On March 29, 2006, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney of Georgia entered the Longworth House Office Building's southeast entrance after walking around the metal detector at the security checkpoint. She proceeded westward down the ground floor hallway and about halfway down the hallway was grabbed by United States Capitol Police officer Paul McKenna who states that he had been calling after her "Ma'am, Ma'am!" Two days later Officer McKenna filed a police report claiming that McKinney had "struck his chest with a closed fist." Members of Congress are not required to pass through metal detectors but they are asked to wear identifying lapel pins.

National headlines grabbed the incident and sparked controversies over whether the officers present failed to recognize her as a Member of Congress because she was not wearing the appropriate lapel pin, [cite news | url= | title=Rep. McKinney Punches Cop | publisher=WXIA-TV ATLANTA | date=30 March 2006] , whether Rep. McKinney had just cause to assert that racial profiling played a role in the incident, whether Members of Congress should be required to pass through metal detectors, and even whether Rep. McKinney's recent change of hair-style contributed to the incident.

Police report, media frenzy and charges

Officer McKenna did not arrest Rep. McKinney at the time of the incident. He filed a police report later. The following is his exact statement, with C-1 referring to himself and S-1 to Rep. McKinney:

"On 3-29-06, at approximately 0855 hrs. C-1 while performing his official duties as United States Capitol Police Officer and in full uniform, stated that he was physically assaulted by S-1. S-1 struck C-1 in his chest with a closed fist."

The police report states that she struck him "with a closed fist," with no mention of a cell phone. [cite news | url= | title= Police report: McKinney hit officer with fist | publisher=CNN Washington Bureau | date=19 April 2006; cite news | url= | title= McKinney report cites assault with 'closed fist' | publisher=Atlanta Journal-Constitution | date=19 April 2006]

Since the altercation took place halfway down the hall the only thing the security cameras at the checkpoint could have captured is Rep. McKinney walking past the metal detector and turning left down the hall and off the camera and the subsequent pursuit by Officer McKenna. U.S. Capitol Police clarified that the altercation was not captured on security camera.Fact|date=March 2007

The Congressional pin debate

McKinney was criticized in the media for failing to wear her pin on the morning of March 29, 2006, with critics charging that her failure to do so led to the confrontation. Many other Members have not worn the pin since the McKinney-McKenna affair.Fact|date=July 2008 A July 5, 2006 article in The Hill titled " [ Pinpoint: After McKinney, many lawmakers still dress without their congressional pins] " noted "no discernible pattern" in the decision by Members of Congress regarding the wearing of the Congressional Pin. Notably, House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that he was "not a pin-wearing guy." Another Republican Member, Sherwood Boehlert (NY) explained his reason for not wearing a pin, stating "I know who I am." Democratic Member George Miller (CA) said "I've never worn one. I have enough trouble combing my hair in the morning." [cite news | url= | title=After McKinney, many lawmakers still dress without their congressional pins]

McKinney admitted that she was not wearing her pin that morning but opined that the police responsible for protecting lawmakers should recognize the 435 members of Congress on sight and claimed to have shown her Congressional identification badge. [cite news | url= | title=McKinney Faces Arrest for Scuffle | publisher=WXIA-TV ATLANTA | date=30 March 2006] [See, e.g., A. Jabari, [ McKinney's Hair & Affair] , in "The Washington Post", 4/10/06)]

Initial reactions

McKinney made a brief statement on her own behalf at Howard University on March 31: "Let me be clear: this whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female black congresswoman. I deeply regret this incident occurred, and I am certain that after a full review of the facts, I will be exonerated." [cite news | url= | title=McKinney Says Police Officer Touched Her 'Inappropriately' | publisher=The Washington Post]

McKinney garnered little support. Not one Congressional Democrat chose to join her at a news conference to discuss the situation at Howard University, although Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a supportive statement to be read at the event. Initially stating on March 31 that she "wouldn't make a big deal" out of the incident [ [ Hitting a Police Officer 'No Big Deal?' Republicans Ask - 03/31/2006 ] ] , Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) later said on April 5 that she "found it hard to see any set of facts that would justify striking a police officer," [cite news | url=,2933,191400,00.html | title=McKinney Reveals Status of Gender, Race | publisher=Fox News] and McKinney's fellow Georgia Democrat, Rep. John Lewis, told McKinney that "she needs to lower the temperature and stop holding press conferences." [cite news | url= | title=Lewis advises McKinney to stop |publisher=The Hill (newspaper)] Outside of Capitol Hill, the Sarasota Democratic Party withdrew from a rally at which McKinney was due to speak. [cite news | url= | title=Democrats Pull Out Of McKinney Rally | publisher=Sarasota Herald-Tribune]

Rep. McKinney declined to discuss the details of the altercation in subsequent media interviews. She has not formally shared her side of the altercation with the public, including: 1) whether she had heard the officer calling after her, or if so, knew that she was the "Ma'am" being called; 2) whether she was aware that an officer of the law was grabbing her, and therefore, assuming she swung her arm in a retaliatory motion: 3) whether she was aware that she was striking an officer of the law; and also: 4) the amount of force behind the alleged blow. The basic facts of the event, aside from Rep. McKinney's failure to wear her pin, thus remain in dispute. However, no one, including Rep. McKinney, has ever explained why she has never told her side of the story, or attempted to clear up any dispute in the facts.

A two-day wait to "file a police report" by a policeman is unusual in the United States. Fact|date=October 2008

Accused of "Playing the race card"

The story was picked up by many blogs and internet opinion sites with overwhelming rebuke for McKinney coming from conservatives and also left-leaning sources offering negative portrayals of Rep. McKinney, as on the comedy show Saturday Night Live, which lampooned her repeatedly on their 4/8/06 show for "playing the race card." On April 3, former Wonkette editor Ana Marie Cox, interviewed on Joe Scarborough's MSNBC show "Scarborough Country", said that "I worry that she [McKinney] makes us [Democrats] all look a little crazy." [ [] ] Within a few days of the first reports, McKinney had been variously described as a "crazy bitch", "race baiter", "freak", "batshit insane", [ [] ] etc.Fact|date=June 2008 Some columns even went so far as to analyze her hairstyle [ [ Why a Hairstyle Made Headlines ] ] in a negative light and question the quick participation of Harry Belafonte, who is generally regarded as a political polarizing agent and also the recipient of frequent negative commentary due to his public statements.

Reacting to the sudden rise in stakes reflected by the potential for criminal indictment McKinney's attorney, James Myart, spoke in a March 31 news conference suggesting that the officer involved be criminally investigated for accosting ("inappropriately touching") the congresswoman. This charge was not taken seriously by most commentators and media outlets. Myart said the case typified a pattern of police harassment of black Americans. " belief is this is no different than that: 'they all look alike'. [cite news | url= | title=Congresswoman Accuses Capitol Police Officer of Racial Bias | publisher=The New York Times | date=1 April 2006 | author=Carl Hulse] On April 25, 2006, [ CNN reported] that Myart was no longer representing McKinney. Recently retired U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer rejected Myart's charge in an interview with CNN: :"I've seen our officers stop white members and black members, Latinos, male and females ... It's not an issue about what your race or gender is. It's an issue about making sure people who come into our building are recognized if they're not going through the magnetometer, and this officer at that moment didn't recognize her ... It would have been real easy, as most members of Congress do, to say 'here's who I am' or 'do you know who I am?'"

McKinney has repeatedly stated the incident arose from McKenna's failure to recognize her face, suggesting that a pattern of incidents in which Capitol Police failed to recognize her as a Member of Congress had to do with a general tendency by police in the United States to engage in racial profiling of blacks and therefore tend to handle blacks more roughly.Fact|date=June 2008


On April 6, 2006, after the grand jury was convened to investigate, the Associated Press reported that McKinney had expressed "sincere regret" for the altercation and offered an apology to the House. "There should not have been any physical contact in this incident," McKinney said in a one-minute statement on the House floor, surrounded by Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Progressive Caucus.Fact|date=June 2008 What McKinney called a "misunderstanding" on April 6, she had labeled "racial profiling" and "inappropriate touching" a day earlier. For nearly a week, she and her lawyers had insisted she had been assaulted and had done nothing wrong. Various commentators, including the Wall Street Journal questioned the sincerity of the apology, [cite news | url=|title=Throw the book at her| publisher=The Wall Street Journal / OpinionJournal] noting, among other things, its careful wording, the lack of admission of culpability, and the absence of an apology specifically to the Capitol Police and Officer McKenna. [cite news | url= | title=McKinney Apologizes | publisher=The Hill (newspaper)]

Potential legal consequences

News reports variously suggested that the police officer as an individual, or the Capitol Police as a whole, were planning to file assault charges. On April 3, 2006, Assistant U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips announced that the Capitol Police had referred the incident to his office for further investigation. [cite news | url= | title=McKinney incident referred to U.S. Attorney's Office|publisher=The Associated Press] On April 5, the Associated Press reported that the case might be referred to a federal grand jury. [cite news | url= | title=Grand Jury to Hear McKinney Run-In Case | publisher=The Associated Press] A sitting Grand Jury was subsequently presented with McKenna's charge of assault of a police officer. Six witnesses were called by the U.S. Attorney's office.

The charge is dropped

On June 16, 2006, the grand jury declined to indict Rep. McKinney, finding insufficient grounds to proceed. [ [ My Way ] ] [cite news | url= | title=McKinney Apologizes Over Scuffle With Officer | publisher=The Washington Post] Under [ 18 U.S.C. §111(a)] , McKinney faced a fine or not more than one year in jail if convicted of assaulting an "officer or employee of the United States".

Article I, section 6 of the United States Constitution prevents the arrest of a member of Congress "except [for] treason, felony and breach of the peace ... during their attendance at the session of their respective Houses, and in going to and returning from the same"; while this does not prevent the charge and arrest of a member of Congress "for a crime committed during the session", it "does" preclude their arrest for such a crime for the duration of the session during which the crime was committed. This would have delayed criminal proceedings until Congress next adjourned; although the grand jury could have indicted McKinney while Congress was in session, that warrant could not have been served until Congress was adjourned.

It was suggested on Fox news [ [,2933,191400,00.html - McKinney Reveals Status of Gender, Race - Blog | Blogs | Popular Blogs | Video Blogs ] ] that McKinney's allegations of racism and sexism were overplayed on her part and have had a boomerang effect. Rep. McKinney's supporters argue that the reporting of the incident presumed her guilty until proven innocent, and that her conservative opponents overplayed their hand by attacking her in such vicious terms: On March 31, libertarian radio host Neal Boortz said McKinney "looks like a "Ghetto slut". [ [ Media Matters - Boortz: Rep. McKinney "looks like a ghetto slut" ] ]

Though not indicted for criminal charges or subjected to disciplinary action by the House, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police said of Officer McKenna,“We're going to make sure the officer won't be harassed. We want the officer to be able talk to experts, who can look at his legal recourses, if he needed to." [cite news | url= | title=Officer Considers Lawsuit Against McKinney | publisher=WSBTV ATLANTA]

McKinney won the Green Party nomination at the 2008 Green Party National Convention. [ [ "McKinney wins Green Party nomination"] , "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution", 2008-07-12]

The Capitol Police have no remaining legal authority to enforce the law against Senators or Members of the House of Representatives, placing them in an jeopardized position as law enforcement personnel subject to constant interaction with 100 United States Senators and 435 Members of the House.


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