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U.S. Capitol Police Union Issues No-Confidence Vote For Top Leaders

Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman, shown at the right at a ceremony memorializing U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was killed on January 6, has come under criticism from rank and file officers for the response to the insurrection.
Erin Schaff
Capitol Police Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman, shown at the right at a ceremony memorializing U.S. Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was killed on January 6, has come under criticism from rank and file officers for the response to the insurrection.

The U.S. Capitol police union issued an overwhelming no-confidence vote for the force's top leaders, including acting Chief Yogananda Pittman and a half-dozen other agency leaders.

The news comes as the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and Rules committees announced plans for a February 23 joint oversight hearing to examine security failures.

Pittman drew a 92% no-confidence vote, while Capitol Police Captain Ben Smith received the highest rebuke from 97% of voting members, the union said.

The union effort began late last week as the Senate impeachment trial against former President Trump for his role in the Jan. 6 insurrection reached its final stages. Trump was acquitted on Saturday. The force has 2,300 officers and civilians and an annual budget of over $460 million. A spokesperson for the union told NPR 657 of the 1050 union members participated in the vote.

"The past week of the impeachment trial showed members of Congress, and the entire country, devastating details of the violence that Capitol Police officers faced during the insurrection. It was the darkest day in the history of the Department," Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement. "The results of our No Confidence vote are overwhelming because our leadership clearly failed us. We know because we were there."

The vote results also showed Capitol Police Assistant Chief Chad Thomas drew 96%, acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher 84% and two deputy chiefs drew 85% or higher no-confidence votes.

Deputy Chief Eric Waldow drew the lowest percentage of the no-confidence vote, but a majority, at 64%.

The Capitol Police Union board called for rank-and-file members to consider the vote after senior leadership admitted mishandling the siege on the Capitol. Five died in connection with the attack, including one U.S. Capitol police officer, Brian Sicknick. In addition, 140 officers for Capitol Police and D.C. Metropolitan Police were injured. Two police officers took their lives following the attack.

The Capitol's top three security officials, including the former police chief, Steven Sund, resigned in the days following the attack. Sund told NPR he was rejected in his request for backup ahead of the Jan. 6 because of optics concerns. He said other efforts to gain additional help that day were significantly delayed. Sund and the other former top House and Senate officials, along with Robert Contee, the chief of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., are slated to testify at the Senate hearing on February 23.

Still, the union says other current leaders still in place at the Capitol failed and should be held accountable.

"Our leaders did not properly plan for the protest nor prepare officers for what they were about to face. This despite the fact they knew days before that the protest had the potential to turn violent," the union said in a statement late Monday. "We still have no answers why leadership failed to inform or equip us for what was coming on January 6th. Our lives, as well members of Congress and staff whom we are sworn to protect, were put at risk."

Last week, the union board said there was no alternative to the no-confidence motion, and systemic failures seen during the Capitol siege cannot be addressed without new leadership.

For example, the union has highlighted testimony given by Pittman in a closed-door meeting with the House Appropriations Committee last month. In that testimony, Pittman said the agency knew the Jan. 6 event would not be like previous protests in 2020, and it was clear that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would attend.

Pittman, who apologized in her testimony for her department's "failings" during the insurrection, also conceded it was clear that rally attendants planned to be armed with weapons, including firearms, and there was a strong potential for violence.

Following her testimony, union leadership said that the force's "entire executive team failed us, and they must be held accountable. Their inaction cost lives."

Late Officer Sicknick, who died from injuries suffered during the attack, lay in honor at the Capitol before his interment at Arlington National Cemetery earlier this month.

Papathanasiou said the union hopes congressional leaders understand that they can't retain the agency's current leadership. Papathanasiou argued leadership has lost the trust of the officers and must be held accountable.

"The anger in this department is widespread and the trust that has been broken it is not going to be regained," he said.

Instead, the agency should be led by current officers who don't serve at the acting chief, assistant chief or deputy chief levels now and who have the trust of the rank and file, Papathanasiou said.

"We hope Congressional leaders hear the voice of Capitol Police officers and take action," he said. "We appreciate the kind words we have received since the insurrection, but we need real change at the Department and that starts with a clean slate at the top."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.