WASHINGTON – Capitol Police dropped a charge of unlawful conduct against anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan on Wednesday and apologized for ejecting her and a congressman's wife from President Bush's State of the Union address for wearing T-shirts with war messages.
"The officers made a good faith, but mistaken effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol," Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement late Wednesday.
"The policy and procedures were too vague," he added. "The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."
The extraordinary statement came a day after police removed Sheehan and Beverly Young, 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 left the gallery and therefore was not arrested, Gainer said.
"Neither guest should have been confronted about the expressive T-shirts," Gainer's statement said.
Gainer added that he was asking the U.S. attorney's office to drop the charge against Sheehan. The statement also said he apologized to the Youngs and "share the department's plans for avoiding this in the future."
"A similar message has been left with Mrs. Sheehan," Gainer said.
For his part, Bill Young said he was not necessarily satisfied.
"My wife was humiliated," he told reporters. He suggested that "sensitivity training" may be in order for Capitol Police.
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 alluded 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 if not 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.
Rules dealing mainly with what people can bring and telling them to refrain from reading, writing, smoking, eating, drinking, applauding or taking photographs are outlined on the back of gallery passes given to tourists every day.
However, State of the Union guests don't receive any guidelines, Hanley said. "You would assume that if you were coming to an event like the State of the Union address you would be dressed in appropriate attire," she said.