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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Police apologize, drop charge against Sheehan

USA TODAY is reporting that Capitol Police dropped a charge of unlawful conduct against anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan Wednesday and offered apologies to her as well as a congressman's wife after they were ejected from President Bush's State of the Union address for wearing T-shirts with war messages.
Captiol Police escort Sheehan from a House gallery before Tuesday's State of the Union address.

Police removed Sheehan and Beverly Young, the wife of Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young, R-Fla., from the visitors gallery Tuesday night. Sheehan was taken away in handcuffs before Bush's arrival at the Capitol and charged with a misdemeanor, while Young was not arrested.

Capitol Police did not explain why Sheehan was arrested and Young was not. However the unlawful conduct charge against Sheehan was being dropped, according to Deputy House Sergeant of Arms Kerri Hanley. And in a private meeting Wednesday, Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer apologized and planned to issue a statement, Rep. Thomas told reporters.

"They were operating under the misguided impression that the T-shirt was not allowed," Hanley said Wednesday. "The fact that she (Sheehan) was wearing a T-shirt is not enough reason to be asked to leave the gallery, or be removed from the gallery, or be arrested."

A foreign-born American citizen who was the guest of Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., also was taken by police from the gallery just above the House floor, Hastings said Wednesday.

The congressman met with Gainer and said he also requested a meeting with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., about the incident.

"I'd like to find out more information," Hastings said in an interview, identifying the man only as being from Broward County in Florida. "He is a constituent of mine. I invited him proudly."

Sheehan's T-shirt made reference to the number of soldiers killed in Iraq: "2245 Dead. How many more?" Capitol Police charged her with a misdemeanor for violating the District of Columbia's code against unlawful or disruptive conduct on any part of the Capitol grounds, a law enforcement official said. She was released from custody and flew home Wednesday to Los Angeles.

Young's shirt had just the opposite message: "Support the Troops — Defending Our Freedom."

The two women appeared to have offended tradition as much as the law, according to several law enforcement and congressional officials. By custom, the annual address is to be a dignified affair in which the president reports on the state of the nation. Guests in the gallery who wear shirts deemed political in nature have, in past years, been asked to change or cover them up.

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