Cops drop charge against Sheehan, admit screwup


    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 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 this 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, according to
    Deputy House Sergeant at Arms Kerri Hanley. “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.

    ___

    Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.

    © 2006 The Associated Press