McKinney Decries 'Inappropriate Touching' by Capitol Police
WASHINGTON – Rep. Cynthia McKinney accused a Capitol Police officer of "inappropriate touching" on Friday as rumors flew around Capitol Hill that the Georgia Democrat would be arrested for her role in a bizarre physical altercation.
"This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female black congresswoman. I deeply regret that this incident occurred and I am certain that after a full review of the facts, I will be exonerated," McKinney said at a press conference at Howard University.
While McKinney asserted her innocence, her lawyer said she was "just a victim of being in Congress while black.
"Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, like thousands of average Americans across this country, is, too, a victim of the excessive use of force by law enforcement officials because of how she looks and the color of her skin," James W. Myart Jr. said.
Myart planned to file charges against the officer for excessive use of force, Capitol Police said.
McKinney was flanked by leaders from civil rights organization and a couple dozen schoolchildren from her district who were coincidentally in the nation's capitol on a field trip, according to a spokesman. Several of the children, most of whom were black, held up signs reading "God Bless Cynthia."
Capping off the 35-minute press conference were celebrities Danny Glover and Harry Belafonte, both of whom are vocal civil rights supporters and critics of the Bush administration.
“We’re not here to judge the merits of the case, but here to support our sister,” said Glover, most famous for the "Lethal Weapon" movie franchise.
Belafonte said he and Glover would be watching the outcome.
"In America and Washington, D.C., issues of race have always been at play and have often been central to justice miscarried. ... We're here to be sure that this process is handled fairly and it is not rooted in a familiar racist behavior, that the outcome of this is going to be done on a very fair and a very square basis," the singer-activist said.
The incident occurred on Wednesday, when McKinney allegedly struck a Capitol Police officer after entering a House office building and refusing to stop at the request of the officer, who apparently did not recognize the congresswoman.
Congressional sources told FOX News that the officer, Paul McKenna, signed an affidavit swearing that McKinney responded to what he described as standard security procedures by punching him in the chest with a cell phone in her hand.
Howard Pressley, president of NAACP Georgia, called the incident a tragedy and use of excessive force.
"The mistreatment of Cynthia McKinney at the hands of Capitol Hill Police is a tragedy of major proportion and points to the vigor of outright disrespect for women and people of color," Pressley said.
Pressley and Myart also implied that McKinney's "progressive" politics may have made her a target for mistreatment.
An assistant to Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, R-Mich., witnessed the incident and gave a statement to Capitol Police, sources told FOX News. The witness, whose name is being withheld, told police that she saw McKinney hit a police officer. The witness was unaware that McKinney was a congresswoman.
McKinney was not wearing her congressional lapel pin during the altercation, which Capitol Police officers use to identify lawmakers and allow them to bypass security checks.
"I do wear the pin when I remember to wear the pin, but the pin is not the issue. If security is based on the pin, I've seen many, many members of Congress who don't have their pins on," McKinney said. "The issue is face recognition."
"Congresswoman McKinney, in a hurry, was essentially chased and grabbed by the officer," Myart said. "She reacted instinctively in an effort to defend herself."
While rumors flew that an arrest warrant would be issued for McKinney, two law enforcement officials said it was unlikely a warrant would be issued this week. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Several Capitol Police officials have said the officer involved asked McKinney three times to stop. When she did not, he placed a hand on her and she hit him, they said.
In a draft of a statement that McKinney did not release, she said the officer "bodyblocked" her during the incident, and she blamed his failure to recognize her on a recent makeover.
"It is ... a shame that while I conduct the country's business, I have to stop and call the police to tell them that I've changed my hairstyle so that I'm not harassed at work," McKinney said in the draft, which was obtained by WSB-TV of Atlanta and posted on its Web site.
An official close to McKinney said the statement was a "work product" never intended to be released.
Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers weighed in on the incident.
"Rep. McKinney appearing with the star of 'Lethal Weapon?' Not exactly the message you want to be sending," said Ron Bonjean, spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill.
In January, during President Bush's State of the Union address, Capitol Police drew criticism for first kicking anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan out of the House gallery, and then for evicting the wife of Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla.
The department is tasked with protecting the 535 members of Congress and the vast Capitol complex in an atmosphere thick with politics and privilege.
The safety of its members became a sensitive issue after a gunman in 1998 killed two officers outside the office of then-Republican Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.
FOX News' James Rosen, Trish Turner and The Associated Press contributed to this report.