Watching Sen. Larry E. Craig’s press conference about his encounter with a police officer in an airport men’s room, I wondered how anyone could be so arrogant as to think he could credibly claim that his only mistake was to plead guilty to the charge stemming from the seamy incident.
Then I remembered "unarresting." Unarresting is not a term you will find in any law. It’s not in any dictionary. But it’s a term known to every officer of the Capitol Police.
Unarresting is what happens when a Capitol Police officer has the misfortune to learn, after having made an arrest, that the person charged is a member of Congress. In that case, a supervisor is called, and he drives the member of Congress home. No record is made of the arrest. In other words, it is covered up.
Of course, if a Capitol Police officer learns before an arrest that the suspect is a member of Congress, the process is much simpler: He never makes the arrest in the first place.
For my book "Inside Congress," former Capitol Police officers described on the record how the process works.
Steven E. Dekelbaum, a former Capitol Police officer who became a metropolitan police detective in Washington, said that one night when he was walking across a street near the Capitol on the green light, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy drove through a red light and almost ran him over.
“He was speeding. The speed limit was 25, and he was well over that,” Dekelbaum told me. “I jumped out of his way. I guess he looked in his rear-view mirror and said, ‘I almost hit a cop.’ He stopped. I approached the car. He reeked [of liquor]. . . I said, ‘Look, senator, you’re pretty drunk, and you almost ran me over.’ I said, ‘I don't want you to get any bad publicity.’ I was pretty diplomatic for a dumb 22-year-old. I knew I would get in trouble otherwise.”
Dekelbaum suggested that Kennedy park his car and take a taxi.
“He said, ‘You know, you’re right.’ I said, ‘I don't want you to kill anybody or kill yourself.’ By this time, the sergeant saw what was going on. He sees whom I’ve stopped. The sergeant literally grabbed me by my shoulder. He gave [Kennedy] his keys back. He said, ‘Do you know who that is?’ I said, ‘Yes.’”
The sergeant turned to Kennedy, apologized for the “inconvenience” and told him to get back in his car.
“The senator took off, and the sergeant started yelling at me, cussing me out,” Dekelbaum said. “I said, ‘You’re a f****** asshole. What happens if he goes down the street and kills somebody or kills himself? They’re going to see a cop stopped him. They can make me an accessory.”
“Too f****** bad,” the sergeant said. “Don’t ever do it again.”
“If you find a member doing something wrong, you unarrest him,” said Edward P. Percival, another former Capitol Police officer. “It happens all the time.”
“It was common practice to unarrest people because they were powerful or someone powerful intervened,” Terry Coons, a former Capitol Police officer, said. “You always considered what you were going to do with the idea, ‘If I arrest this person, what will happen later? What will the consequences of an arrest be on me?'”
“Congress never wanted the Capitol Police to be so professional that they would have the ability to investigate [the members],” former Capitol Police Sgt. John A. Gott told me. “If they kept us as their little private guards, we would never be a threat.”
Thus, when Sen. Patrick J. Kennedy, D-R.I., lost of his control of his car at 2:45 a.m. on May 6, 2006, almost rammed into a Capitol Police cruiser, and then hit a security barrier, Capitol Police suspected he was drunk but followed the book when encountering a member of Congress: Even though he was staggering and at one point almost fell over, they did not give him a sobriety test or Breathalyzer test. Nor did they arrest him. Instead, they drove him home.
Any other citizen would have spent the night in jail.
After the incident was leaked to the papers, the Capitol Police were forced to undo the cover-up. They eventually cited him, and Kennedy pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of prescription medication.
Of course, anyone in power is susceptible to arrogance. But members of Congress are a special case because they make the laws. From laws prohibiting employment discrimination and sexual harassment to the Freedom of Information Act, they often exempt themselves from the same rules and oversight they impose on the rest of the government and the country.
To be sure, Congress created its own mechanism for dealing with complaints by its own employees of discrimination and sexual harassment. But it is toothless. Unarresting is but another example of Congress carving out an exemption for itself.
Indeed, jeopardizing their own safety, members of Congress even order Capitol Police officers to let them enter congressional buildings without going through metal detectors or showing identification. Officers are supposed to memorize their faces but most admit they have no idea what the 535 voting members look like.
When one officer did not recognize then-Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Ga., on March 29, 2006, and asked her to go through a metal detector, she slugged him. Even though others witnessed the incident, she accused the officer of inappropriately touching a “female black congresswoman.”
“The ego and the arrogance of some of the members had an impact on me,” John R. Niston, a former Capitol Police officer, told me. “They get to the point where they think the people in the country exist to serve them instead of the other way around.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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