July 21st, 2007
10:47 AM ET
12 years ago

Congressman clashes with police

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Rep. Christopher Shays apologized Friday for a loud and angry altercation he had a day earlier with a Capitol Police officer, saying he behaved "in a way I know was not appropriate."

Shays spokesman John Cardarelli said the incident took place at the West Front entrance to the Capitol during a rainstorm when the congressman was trying to locate a group of his Connecticut constituents who were coming for a Capitol tour.

An intern had gotten lost with the group and had difficulty describing where they were to Shays, who asked to speak to the police officer. The officer refused, saying it was against policy to accept phone calls while on duty.

Shays eventually found the group and went to them, but the police officer refused to allow them to enter the building through the West Front entrance, which is off-limits to tourists. Shays, Cardarelli said, grabbed the officer's lapel "to look at his name badge" and shouted at him.

"I know Chris swore, and he probably did use the f-bomb," Cardarelli told CNN.

Shays later told CNN he did not remember grabbing the officer's lapel, but he said he was angry and frustrated at not being able to locate the group and get them inside out of the rain.

"The one thing I do remember is wanting to know who it was - I couldn't see the badge well," he said. "I didn't make a fist - that i'm sure of."

"I shouldn't have argued with an officer" or touched his badge, he said, and "I regret doing it."

Shays also said that the point of his apology was "that I don't want anything that I did to reflect on" the officer.

Earlier in the day both Shays and Cardarelli said the characterization of the incident had been "overblown." Shays, in fact, said it "wasn't even close" to an altercation.

But after Capitol Police issued a statement on the incident, Shays issued a statement of his own with an apology.

"Although my focus was in trying to locate my constituents and get them to a dry location, I know I clearly could have handled the situation with the officer in a more professional and respectful way, and I regret I did not do so," Shays said in his statement, adding that he has "respect and admiration" for the "difficult mission" of the Capitol Police. "They deserve all of our respect and admiration, and I apologize that even for a few moments my behavior did not reflect my appreciation of that fact," he said.

The congressman added that he hopes to "meet with the officer and apologize to him in person" when he returns to Washington on Monday.

In its statement, Capitol Police said the officer "took offense to the manner in which the congressman spoke to him and said that the congressman also reached out and touched his name tag."

The officer filed "a courtesy complaint" against Shays, the statement said, prompting a meeting between Chief of Police Phillip D. Morse Sr., Assistant Chief of Police Dan Nichols and Shays.

Shays "acknowledged he acted inappropriately in the heat of the moment and took full responsibility for his actions," the statement said.

Earlier Lou Cannon, head of Washington's chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, also said the incident had been blown out of proportion.

"Everyone's trying to make this sound like another Cynthia McKinney situation, but it's no where close to that," Cannon said. "Words were exchanged, but there was no striking, no hitting, no grabbing. There was no touching."

McKinney was a Georgia congresswoman in April 2006 when she was accused of assaulting a Capitol Police officer who did not recognize her at a security checkpoint. A grand jury refused to indict her, however.

She was defeated by DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson in her bid for re-election at the Democratic primary in July 2006. Johnson won the general election in November.

Filed under: House
soundoff (47 Responses)
  1. Ken - Dallas, TX

    Another "above the law" republican – just following the lead of his party's President who has declared himself totally above the law. Perhaps this idiot will suffer the same fate as McKinney and get ousted in the next election.

    July 21, 2007 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. Naples, Fl

    Seems odd that when a woman does much the same thing much is made of it. Well there it goes again; what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander. lol

    July 21, 2007 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
  3. David in Abingdon, MD

    Ah, actually that's assault, Mr. Shays – grabbing someone by the labels like that, shouting obscenities at them? You've already passed the definition of assault regardless of how you try to compare it to another completely unrelated incident. What a pathetic attempt to distract people from the issue. It would be laughable if I knew people weren't going to fall for it, though.

    July 21, 2007 11:57 am at 11:57 am |
  4. Memphis

    Having worked in the criminal justice system for over 20 years, and can tell you without a doubt that the mere touching of another without their permission is simple battery punishable as a minor crime. The only reason that they are saying this incident is overblown is a male white republican instigated the crime. Had it been a minority democrat, I promise you they would be facing charges like Mckinney.

    July 21, 2007 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  5. Bruce, Franklin, TN

    When all of you can manage to control your anger in these postings, then you can direct others as to how they should control theirs.

    July 21, 2007 12:04 pm at 12:04 pm |
  6. RLR, Champaign, IL

    Two men who are used to being in charge without having someone question them had a run in. Neither one wanted the other telling him what he could and could not do. It just sounds like two men who could not settle a now overblown silly situation.

    July 21, 2007 12:12 pm at 12:12 pm |
  7. Thomas, Niagara, Wisconsin

    A Repulican thinking they are above the law? Come on now, it just can't be!

    July 21, 2007 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  8. Tom Dedham, Mass

    Now when McKinney PUNCHED a cop many were saying she was being pointed out because she was black, boo hoo.

    Did she apologize the next day or face any charges, don't think so?

    The difference between us is when a Republican screws up (and he did) an apology is immediate, a black woman on the other hand received support and somehow the OFFICER was at fault, remember?

    We won't even mention the Kennedy's as didn't one almost run down a few cops while only on sleeping pills (yeah right), you or I would have gotten a "drunk test on the spot", but not the "Do you know who I am" Kennedy's.

    Moral of the story, they all suck and all think they are better than us.

    You have every right to hammer Shay, but remember a demmie could be next.

    July 21, 2007 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  9. sonny c. v.p.,la.

    That's why Republican's always love the "Rule of Law". A good lawyer can always wrap bad behavior into an exception to the "the law" & get what they want & feel holy about it at the same time. You know, like impeaching a President from the other party that you despise but claim you're upholding the Constitution at the same time. Or having States Rights U.S. Supreme Justices jump into a states recount procedure that was going quite well, to preserve the sanctity of a Presidential Election. Yes,like Dickens said,after seeing some pretty horrendous "legal" results in his times of Victorian London, "the law is an ass"!

    July 21, 2007 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  10. DJ, Los Angeles

    That's not an apology. An apology is when you admit you were wrong and not make any excuses.

    You can't use innocent people as punching bags to take out your personal problems on.

    Shays should be charged with assault and removed from his position, forced to take anger management counseling. This type of hostile behavior should not be tolerated, especially in public office.

    That was a fight, Shays is lucky he wasn't punched in the face and arrested on the spot.

    July 21, 2007 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  11. Kevin, Collegeville Pennsylvania

    Why would someone on this blog possibly say the officer in question was unreasonable when the officer was simply following security protocol and doing his job? In addition, why would someone make such statements without knowing the exact context of the situation? The bottom line is that a supposedly professional, senior member of Congress illegally put his hands on an officer (to a much greater extent than the media reported) and will not be charged because of his position. This is something I suggest you NOT try at home as I guarantee if you are in a similar situation, you will be facing battery charges and a free ride in a squad car. Capital police have a difficult job protecting the most threatened structure in the world and a little respect from the people they are protecting isn't too much to ask. The story here is very clear. An arrogant, out-of-touch member of Congress did not get his way and threw a temper tantrum that crossed the line and caused him to act in an illegal way. Defending someone who does this and will not have to face any consequences for these actions is simply ludicrous.

    July 21, 2007 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  12. sonny c. v.p.,la.

    P.S.–How about disclosing the I.D. of a CIA employee as political payback & then using the "she's not a covert operative" loophole as a"legal" defense.

    July 21, 2007 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  13. Edward: San Rafael, CA

    Perhaps the next time Congressman Shays doesn't act quickly enough on an issue, or doesn't vote the right way on a bill, doesn't take someone's phone call, or doesn't break the "right" breakable rules of his job, a police officer -or anyone who doesn't like what he's done (or hasn't done)- should grab him by the lapel and shout him down, in public. After all that is the reasonable thing to do.

    For all of you Shays apologists out there:

    Perhaps the next time Congressman Shays desires to humiliate someone he should simply ask for "you" to be the whipping boy? Right? Clearly you don't mind being humiliated in front of others, while doing your job professionally, do you?

    Since you think his behavior is acceptable, you should personally volunteer to be the congressman's punching bag. It is the only way to honor your beliefs and convictions and to do your part!

    You wouldn't want to sound shallow and self-serving, heaping all of that weight on someone else's shoulders, as you sit in your easy chair and condemn a policeman, for having done nothing wrong, right?

    July 21, 2007 08:14 pm at 8:14 pm |
  14. Steve Little Rock Arkansas

    Republicans have a disregard if not contempt for our system of government.
    The contempt for Congress is more than evident. Shay's actions echo the sentiments those of Dick 'F-word' Cheney. Defer everything to the executive branch and then 'What Me Worry'

    July 22, 2007 06:15 am at 6:15 am |
  15. Tim C. Chicago, IL

    Typical of the current GOP regime... Maybe they should consider changing it from GOP to "HTT".

    "Holier Than Thou"

    July 22, 2007 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  16. Edward: San Rafael, CA

    What would happen if the next time Congressman Shays doesn't act quickly enough on an issue, or doesn't vote the right way on a bill, doesn't take someone's phone call, or doesn't break the "right" breakable rules of his job, a police officer -or anyone who doesn't like what he's done (or hasn't done)- grabbed him by the lapel and shouted him down, in public?

    Would he be okay with that response? After all, by his actions, it appears that he considers this a reasonable thing to do.

    For all of the Shays apologists out there:

    Perhaps the next time Congressman Shays desires to humiliate someone he should simply ask for "Shays Apologists" to be the whipping boys. Right? Clearly you don't mind being humiliated in front of others, while doing your job professionally, do you?

    Those who think his behavior is acceptable, should personally volunteer to be the congressman's punching bag. It is the only way to honor your beliefs and convictions and to do your part!

    Otherwise the apologists might sound shallow and self-serving, heaping all of that weight on someone else's shoulders, as they sit in their easy chairs and condemn a policeman, for having done nothing wrong, right?

    July 22, 2007 08:54 pm at 8:54 pm |
  17. C. Bullock, Augusta, GA.

    Rep C. Shays' conduct was inappropriate in my opinion. Let us not use a double

    July 22, 2007 11:46 pm at 11:46 pm |
  18. Ron, Oklahoma City, OK

    As several previous posters have noted the police are here to serve the public. Not take crap from some Congressman who wants to be the big dog mind you but in this case Shays had every right to yell at a cop that was being a jerk just for the sake of being a jerk. Does ANYONE really think the officer would have been in trouble for taking the cell phone for a one minute conversation with a U.S. Congressman to advise him of where his constituents were on Capital grounds. There are two egos at work here ... the badge heavy cop who is going by the book for the sake of the book and the get my way or the highway congressman. They are both just officious asses. That’s why so many people in this country hate cops and find Congressmen so full of hypocrisy. Taking the high ground could and should have been more professional but so could the cop as public servant. Grabbing peoples clothing is asking for an ass whipping where I come from and to do it to a cop is just stupid, ask any bruised up would-be big shot down at the holding tank any night of the week.

    July 23, 2007 05:08 pm at 5:08 pm |
  19. James, Phoenix AZ

    DJ in L.A. writes, "That was a fight, Shays is lucky he wasn’t punched in the face and arrested on the spot"

    That's the way things are done in LA, huh DJ? I can't IMAGINE why LA had the riots after the Rodney King debacle.

    Keep the "good advice" coming! (eyes rolling)

    July 23, 2007 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  20. Will, Washington, DC

    It is a sad day when I read all these comments about the officer in question knowing that there is not a single person here who knows the officer or the actual situation – only the situation as the press wants to portray it.

    Number one: The officer was doing his job by not allowing the staffer to enter that particular entrance because for two reasons, the security of the building and a pervasive feeling of entitlement by a good chunk of staffers/interns at the Capitol. I will not get into the security aspect as it should be obvious in this day and age (yes it is the "people's building" but terrorists know that also). To the entitlement issue – it seems one of the first things taught to staffers/interns is how to say "don't you know who I am." If a member wants to take a group anywhere in the building they are allowed and many staffers/interns beleive they should be able to also. Sorry if you don't rank as high as a member of congress – get over it and follow the rules which are put in place by the respective Seargant at Arm's Offices and only enforced by the Capitol Police.

    Number two: The officer did not disallow the member from bringing in his group, he disallowed the staffer. The congressman only came out after the fact at which time had the congressman given the officer the chance he would have then allowed the group into the entrance but only in the presence of the congressman.

    Number three: All the press reports that it was raining. It was maybe a slight drizzle for a couple minutes. I am sorry that they got slightly wet but there were large groups of people standing on the West front in the "rain" and they were not taking cover.

    Number four: The talk of the officer not accepting a phone call is another case of people not knowing the Capitol Police and the building. The officials have made it clear that if you are seen on your phone you will be punished no matter if the phone call is personal, job-related or an emergency. Secondly, how is the officer to know that the person on the other line is actually the congressman. If the officer let the staffer in based on the word of someone over the phone there would be major implications for the officer if something did happen.

    I am not even going to get into the comparisons between the Cynthia McKinney incident and this one. They are two totally different situations that were by two totally different people. I am not in any way saying Congressman Shays was right in any way but the situations are different. And for those that will scream the difference is race you are wrong.

    July 24, 2007 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  21. angelo freda, brandywine, md

    If this guy, Shays, can't keep his cool in such a trivial situation, how can we expect him to be a leader in our government? No class.

    July 24, 2007 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  22. Enterik, Providence, RI

    Those people who voted for Shays will lap up this bee in a bonnet media stunt. He is a tough, no nonsense man who will fight for his constituents, that will be the story rendered.

    July 24, 2007 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
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