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'Their inaction cost one officer his life' | Capitol Police union issues scathing rebuke of leadership response to riot

Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou says rank-and-file officers are angry and demoralized, calls for new leadership.

WASHINGTON — The union representing Capitol Police officers issued a scathing rebuke of department leadership Wednesday – calling the failure to prepare for potential violence on January 6 “unconscionable.”

The letter comes in response to testimony by acting Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman on Tuesday during a closed-door session of the House Appropriations Committee. That testimony included an acknowledgment that the department’s leadership was aware that militia groups and white supremacists would be attending, and that “there was a strong potential for violence and that Congress was the target.”

Union Chairman Gus Papathanasiou called Pittman’s testimony a “startling admission.”

“We have one officer who lost his life as a direct result of the insurrection,” Papathanasiou said in a written statement. “Another officer has tragically taken his own life. Between USCP and our colleagues at the Metropolitan Police Department, we have almost 140 officers injured. I have officers who were not issued helmets prior to the attack who have sustained brain injuries. One officer has two cracked ribs and two smashed spinal disks. One officer is going to lose his eye, and another was stabbed with a metal fence stake.

“The disclosure that the entire executive team (former Chief Sund, now Acting Chief Pittman and Assistant Chief Thomas) knew what was coming but did not better prepare us for potential violence, including the possible use of firearms against us, is unconscionable.”

In her testimony, Pittman said she was the one who had ordered the Capitol locked down as soon as the police line was breached. However, Papathanasiou disputed that.

“To be clear, it was actually Inspector Loyd who initially ordered the Capitol lockdown approximately 1 hour prior to Chief Pittman’s order. That was the only time that day I heard Acting Chief Pittman on the radio.”

Rather than a radio communication issue during the riots – something Pittman had highlighted as a challenge to her officers in her testimony – Papathanasiou said the “real communication breakdown was silence from our leadership.”

“They failed to share key intelligence with officers in advance, they failed to prepare adequately, they failed to equip our officers with a plan and on that very day, they failed to lead. This was not a ‘whole Department’ failure, but a leadership failure,” Papathanasiou wrote.

The union chairman ended by saying that Pittman should not be named the permanent head of the department, and that possibly no one at the deputy chief level should either. But he also said Congress, which oversees the Capitol Police, shouldn’t look outside the department for new leadership, either.

“Our next leader needs to be shovel ready on day one and have the confidence of the officers,” Papathanasiou said. “There is no time for on-the-job training given the ongoing threats we are facing.”

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