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‘Unfathomable’: Capitol Police security breakdown prompts chief’s resignation

  • January 11, 2021

attackers took their target with such remarkable ease nearly two decades after the 9/11 attacks prompted federal authorities to spend millions to bolster defenses across the capital to repel such assaults.

Capitol police officers in riot gear push back demonstrators who try to break a door of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington.

The failure also comes less than two weeks before what is traditionally one of the country’s most challenging security operations: the inauguration of a new president.

Calls for investigations

Federal lawmakers, District of Columbia authorities and law enforcement officials already are calling for a national examination of capital security – similar to the commission that studied the myriad breakdowns in advance of the 9/11 attacks – which Mayor Muriel Bowser described as a “catastrophic failure.”

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also said Thursday the Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger should resign or would be fired. 

attack which left four dead, including the fatal shooting of 35-year-old demonstrator Ashli Babbitt, Sund, in department’s first public statements addressing the incident, appeared to acknowledge that the department was caught by surprise.

“The violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was unlike any I have ever experienced in my 30 years in law enforcement here in Washington, D.C.,” Sund said hours before his resignation. “Maintaining public safety in an open environment – specifically for First Amendment activities – has long been a challenge.”

In the face of mounting criticism, Sund said the department had “a robust plan to address anticipated First Amendment activities.”

“But make no mistake – these mass riots were not First Amendment activities; they were criminal riotous behavior,” the chief said, referring to his officers as “heroic given the situation they faced.”

Yet much of the criticism for the failed law enforcement response focused squarely on Sund and his 2,300-member force.

Reels of video and photographs posted on social media show the rioters easily breaching Capitol barricades, with some officers appearing to step aside, continually give ground and even pose for selfies.

Pro-Trump rioters confront U.S. Capitol Police officers in a hallway near the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.

Many contrasted the police behavior toward rioters at the Capitol with what racial justice protesters encountered – including President-elect Joe Biden.

“Nobody can tell me that if it was a group of Black Lives Matter protesters that they wouldn’t have been treated differently than the thugs who stormed the Capitol,” Biden said Thursday. “We all know that is true. And it is unacceptable – totally unacceptable.”

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It is unclear whether the officers’ actions were part of a stand-down crowd-control strategy or whether they were acting to protect themselves. Some of the supporters of President Donald Trump were armed.

In his statement, Sund did not elaborate on the planning for the event or the response to it, other than to characterize the planning as “robust.”

Yet the scene that played out Wednesday afternoon on live television, government officials and law enforcement analysts said, clearly depicted a lack of preparation.

‘Advance intelligence could not have been clearer’

Noting that Trump had called on his supporters to descend on the city to protest Congress’ certification of the November vote, Bratton said Capitol Police should have anticipated that the joint session of Congress would be target, adding that there was ample time to prepare.

“The advance intelligence could not have been clearer,” Bratton said. “I find it hard to believe that there was not more preparation. This is terrible planning; security perimeters were abandoned. Capitol Police leadership has a lot to answer for, as this was an awful day for American law enforcement.”

Indeed, nearly a month before Wednesday’s attack Trump sought to stir his base to action in a tweet, calling them to Washington for the Jan. 6 meeting of Congress.

“Be there,” Trump wrote. “Will be wild.”

And in the run-up to Wednesday afternoon, he continued to stoke anger among his supporters with repeated and unfounded references to a stolen election.

In a blistering critique of his onetime boss, former Attorney General William Barr called Trump’s conduct “betrayal of his office and supporters.” 

Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the failure to anticipate Wednesday’s assault was inexcusable.

Where was the National Guard?

For now, authorities have begun ringing the Capitol grounds with 7-foot “non-scalable fencing that is expected to remain in place through the inauguration.

And as many as 6,200 National Guard troops are scheduled to arrive by the weekend.

But Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., expressed harsh criticism for the military’s response during the height of Wednesday’s clash.

Hogan said he was required to wait an hour and a half before receiving authorization to send the unit to Washington.

Maryland was the first state to send the guard. Hogan said Thursday that America would be better off if Trump resigned or was removed from office.

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Reps. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Carolyn Maloney, chairwoman of the  House Committee on Oversight and Reform, plan to send a letter to several agencies, including the Sergeant at Arms, the U.S. Capitol Police, House leaders and law enforcement departments, to ask about efforts to prepare for the protests.

“At the end of the day, there was plenty of security there, but that was after the fact,’’ Thompson said. “Why did it take so long for the backup … to get there?”

He said they want to discuss what intelligence was available to the Capitol Police and the involvement of other agencies, including the FBI and Secret Service. At some point, Thompson said, the Capitol Police will have to either justify the security that most people say was inadequate or acknowledge the failures of security.

ID: Help identify the rioters

“If these same folks want to do this somewhere else, we’re looking at domestic terrorists,’’ he said. “Who in the hell would have ever have imagined that American citizens would invade the United States Capitol? Given the fuel that Donald Trump provided … you could almost predict that something like this had the potential to happen.”

Art Acevedo, the police chief in Houston who heads the Major Cities Chiefs Association, offered the collective resources of the largest police agencies in the country to assist in a “urgent review that should extend beyond the Capitol Building to ensure the security of our most crucial assets.”

“It was appalling to see what happened (Wednesday),” Acevedo said Thursday. “This was a group of miscreants who easily took control of what should be one of the most secure buildings in our country. This is a failure of leadership, first and foremost.”

What happened in D.C. yesterday? How a Trump mob stormed the Capitol forcing Washington into lockdown

Contributing: Deborah Barfield Berry

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