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US Capitol Police Union wants complete leadership overhaul

The union representing rank-and-file officers is set to hold a vote of no confidence Thursday

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Police arrive at the Capitol to confront protesters during the joint session of the 117th Congress on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C.

Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS

By Chris Marquette
CQ-Roll Call

WASHINGTON — The union representing the Capitol Police’s rank-and-file officers is getting set to vote later this week on whether acting Chief Yogananda Pittman and five other members of the department’s leadership are fit to serve their fellow officers after the Capitol insurrection on Jan. 6.

If the no confidence vote is successful, it would send a message to the department and the public that more than 1,000 union officers want a tectonic shift in who leads the force. Union members will start voting on Thursday afternoon.

Pittman, Assistant Chief Chad Thomas, acting Assistant Chief Sean Gallagher, Deputy Chief Timothy Bowen, Deputy Chief Jeffrey Pickett and Deputy Chief Eric Waldow are the leadership officials who are the subjects of the referendum.

Eva Malecki, a spokesperson for the Capitol Police, did not respond to a request for comment.

Waldow’s leadership has been questioned before, at a 2019 federal sexual discrimination trial. Waldow admitted in court that he circumvented department protocol to fire Officer Chrisavgi Sourgoutsis.

The Capitol Police Union’s Executive Board said it “has taken this unprecedented step after reviewing senior leadership’s handling of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.”

Pittman took the reins of the department on Jan. 8 when then-Chief Steven Sund resigned after mounting pressure from Congress. Officer Gus Papathanasiou, the union chairman, said there needs to be more sweeping change at the top due to the gravity of the failures on Jan. 6.

“The enormity of the multiple leadership failures both in leading up to the insurrection, and in the Department’s response to it, have convinced us there is no other choice,” Papathanasiou said. “The leadership has failed us, and we have paid a terrible price.”

Papathanasiou added that there are “leaders in this Department whom we trust and who we know will work with the union to make the changes that are greatly needed. These leaders exist within the Department, but not at the Chief, Assistant Chief, or Deputy Chief level.”

“I’m pleased to see the union taking their leadership to task and I certainly hope that the Congress will follow suit,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. “I think that all of them should lose their leadership roles. Across the board. The entire leadership,” Norton said. “There was no greater failure on Jan. 6 than the failure of the Capitol Police leadership.”

Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick was one of five people who died as a result of the violence caused by the pro-Trump mob. Pittman said 125 Capitol Police officers were physically assaulted and over 70 Capitol Police officers were injured during the insurrection.

Pittman has apologized to Congress and acknowledged her department’s failure to adequately act on intelligence before the violence ensued. She recently told the House Appropriations Committee in a prepared statement that the Capitol Police knew by Jan. 4 that the event would pose a security threat unlike any demonstrations in 2020.

“We knew that militia groups and white supremacists organizations would be attending,” Pittman said in the statement. “We also knew that some of these participants were intending to bring firearms and other weapons to the event. We knew that there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”

Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, has previously expressed support for Pittman and Thomas to lose their jobs. A spokesperson for Ryan did not respond to a request for comment.

Representatives for House Administration Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., and ranking member Rodney Davis, R-Ill., did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives for Senate Rules and Administration Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and ranking member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., did not respond to a request for comment. Representatives for Legislative Branch Appropriations Chair Christopher S. Murphy, D-Conn., and ranking member Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., also did not respond to a request for comment.

(c)2021 CQ Roll Call