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Lawmaker Offers Apology for Confrontation With Police

Rep. Cynthia McKinney changes her tone amid pressure in Congress and a pending probe.

April 07, 2006|Nick Timiraos and Johanna Neuman | Times Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, facing a grand jury investigation and a cold shoulder from colleagues, apologized on the House floor Thursday for an altercation with a Capitol Police officer who had asked her to stop after she walked around a security checkpoint.

"I am sorry that this misunderstanding happened at all, and I regret its escalation," the Georgia Democrat said. "And I apologize."

McKinney's words and tone contrasted sharply with her initial reaction to the March 29 incident. For several days, McKinney insisted that the officer had acted inappropriately.

Lawmakers wearing identification pins routinely are waved into the Capitol and surrounding office buildings without passing through metal detectors. But McKinney was not wearing her pin when she entered the Longworth House Office Building. In the ensuing confrontation, she allegedly hit the officer, who had touched her shoulder in an attempt to stop her.

At a news conference last Friday that included singer Harry Belafonte and actor Danny Glover, McKinney, who is black, charged she was a victim of racial profiling and "inappropriate touching" by the officer, who is white.

In numerous television interviews, she also said the matter was "much ado about a hairdo," suggesting the officer did not recognize her because she had recently changed her hairstyle.

But after the scuffle was referred to a federal grand jury -- and as it turned into a political lightening rod -- McKinney came under increasing pressure to defuse the situation.

Fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus delivered that message to her during a closed-door meeting Wednesday night.

And House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) clearly was perturbed by the continuing furor -- especially when she and other Democratic leaders wanted to focus on the decision earlier this week by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) to resign from Congress.

Pelosi distanced herself from McKinney when asked to comment on the case, saying, "The matter is under investigation.... I don't see any conceivable reason why someone would strike a Capitol Police officer."

It was unclear Thursday whether McKinney's apology would have any effect on the grand jury, which is weighing assault charges against her.

Two congressional aides who witnessed the security incident -- Troy Phillips, who works for Rep. Sam Farr (D-Carmel), and Lisa Subrize, who works for Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.) -- were subpoenaed Wednesday to testify before the panel.

Andrew Leipold, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Law, speculated that McKinney's words could make a difference. "Grand jurors can be moved just like anybody else, if they believe the apology and contrition is sincere," he said.

Several African American colleagues stood by McKinney's side as she delivered her apology on the House floor.

"There should not have been any physical contact in this incident," she said.

She also said she planned to vote for a resolution that Republicans had introduced after the conflict that expressed Congress' appreciation for the professionalism and dedication of the Capitol Police.

McKinney, 51, who represents an Atlanta-area district, was first elected to the House in 1992. She lost her party's primary in 2002 to Denise Majette, who focused on a number of controversial comments McKinney had made over the years.

Majette gave up the seat in 2004, when she ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate. McKinney easily won the 2004 race for the open seat.

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