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Capitol Police Press Conference

Aired October 30, 2003 - 14:55   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to take you back to Washington, D.C. now, where the chief of the Capitol Hill Police briefing reporters on what happened today.

TERRENCE GAINER, CAPITOL HILL POLICE: ....a couple of hours ago, resulted from two staff members bringing in Halloween costumes that included a plastic weapon.

Now, the -- how this unfolded is they walked in and put their belongings on the x-ray machine. An officer was engaged in conversation -- someone else came up and asked that officer for some information. He momentarily talked to them and those few seconds, the items passed off the x-ray belt, the parties picked them up and left and the officer immediately noticed what was very plain on the x-ray machine, something that looked like a weapon. And that began the process of trying to discern who that was.

We initially put out a broadcast of male, because that's what the officer reported. And as we looked at the tapes and got very good pictures, we could see a male walked into the building and talked to the officer, then he was followed quickly by two females and that's why the subsequent description went out.

The item that was brought in was brought in by the females. I don't think they had any ill intent. They had their Halloween costumes in preparations for parties tonight and tomorrow. And I just don't think were thinking clearly through this.

We've talked to them. They became aware of us looking for them as this unfolded. They contacted the police and we went up and spoke with them. They're very sorry this has all happened.

But I think it demonstrates our ability to quickly discern that someone could be bringing something and to resolve it successfully.

I'll be happy to try and answer any questions.


QUESTION: Was he doing what he should have been doing at the time?

GAINER: Well, when all officers are standing at the door, it's not unusual for people to ask directions, which office is on which floor. It was a very brief conversation. I've personally looked at these tapes. We've talked to the officer. I think they were performing well within standards.

We'll look, again, at how quick an item moves past the x-ray machine and maybe slow the belt down so we can verify exactly what it is and we don't lose a half second or so in that -- as far as the -- as far as the -- the report is -- as was said earlier, about the individuals walking away quickly, we're still looking into that one.

I watched the tape. You can see that both the young ladies came in with their goods, put them down. They had a Coke in their hand. It looked like a very casual return from lunch situations.

So, again, I don't think anybody was trying to trick anybody. I think it was just an unusual set of Halloween circumstances that unfolded on us. Maybe the message is to -- to the public at large, whether it's in Washington, D.C. or wherever you're at, you have to be careful at this time with the costumes you have. Obviously, we're all very sensitive you have. It's not inconceivable that people could be wearing or carrying something that is going to upset folks.


QUESTION: ... report was a man and a woman.

GAINER: Well, as I said, the officer reported talking to a male, and the officer did do that. And that was followed quickly by two women coming in. So it was unclear to that officer, who may have put the items on there.

But, again, the science we have, we can work at and recall the x- ray pictures and the people coming in there. So it just took us a few minutes to put that together and get the pictures out to everybody to settle what it was.

But while we were doing the investigative work, putting the scientific evidence together, the pictures, having the experts look at the mass as it came across the x-ray, then we're instituting our initial lockdown procedures on the building, to make sure no one entered or exited. As we start looking for the male then we're beginning the process of emptying the offices and letting people go out in an orderly fashion.


GAINER: You could not tell from the x-ray whether it was plastic or real. It certainly looked like a real gun.

Now one who's more astute at that and has more experience might be able to detect between the masses. And we have different pictures that look at both -- not only the size and shape, but another picture that gives us some mass. So when you look at both those together, and we have experts to do that, we were able to out the truth of this together.

(CROSSTALK) GAINER: I'm sorry. It's going to have to be one at a time.

QUESTION: Some members were saying that they knew through their office in New York, not from the Congress. Do you know what happened? A congresswoman told us that she knew about the incident


QUESTION: They haven't received any notice.

GAINER: Well, the two members, I think, will be happy to address that.

But one of the things that we're concern about in this obviously is to institute the law enforcement safety procedures, but then also try to communicate to people, so as not to panic folks and to do this orderly. We have several ways of getting out communications. And we did this by telephone, BlackBerry, and enunciators. I think we sent out at least two, if not three, enunciator messages about what was going on. And then our officers were going floor to floor.


QUESTION: Were other House office buildings locked down?

GAINER: Other House office buildings were not locked down. We were evaluating where the threat may have been. And we were comfortable the threat has been isolated in here.


QUESTION: Are there any charges involved here?

GAINER: I wouldn't think so, no.


QUESTION: Which members of Congress


GAINER: I don't think that's particularly relevant?

QUESTION: Why not?


QUESTION: ... track these two staffers down, Chief?

GAINER: Pardon me?

QUESTION: Inside the building, what was the SWAT team doing?

GAINER: Well, not only our CERT team, the officers who are especially equipped and trained to look for armed suspects, were going about a methodical search by -- search room by room, floor by floor, assisted by other officers who are always trained, but don't have the heavier equipment that they do.

So, actually, the search for what was then the suspect and now turns out to be someone with a Halloween costume, was similar that any police department would do in any building looking for an armed offender.


JONATHAN KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The first notice you put out was for a white male. Now it turns out that it was one of the women that had the suspected gun. So what happened in that time?

GAINER: Well, again, the officer recognized that there was a suspicious article, a gun-looking object that came through. And she started doing the recall of who she talked with at those seconds.

And the person she recalled talking to was a male. But, again, as we looked at the tapes, we were able to see review the tapes, talk to the officer and really construct what was going on. So, you have to remember that the whole thing is unfolding in a matter of seconds. So, the officer is being debriefed. We're searching and we're looking for the technology. And it all came together.

PHILLIPS: Well, nothing like a little Halloween scare early nationwide. I think we would all rather be trick-or-treating.

As you can see, the chief there of Capitol Hill Police, Terrance Gainer, announcing to reporters that indeed the scare that took place, allegedly, a man with a gun there in one of the House buildings in the nation's Capitol was actually two staff members with a Halloween costume and a toy gun, a little bit of delay there within the X-ray system, of course, an ongoing investigation on how to deal with that problem.

But, at this point, the chief saying he felt his officers were working well within the standards. They're just going to study the machines and the delay, possibly in the belt, definitely does not feel that this was any type of trick at this time, and feels that the staffers, at this point, will not face any charges.

Well, big relief for everyone that this was not the real deal.


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