Charges against Cindy Sheehan, who refused to cover up her "2,245 Dead. How Many More?" T-shirt at Tuesday's State of the Union address were dropped late Wednesday (February 1) as Capitol police apologized to the anti-war activist.
"The officers made a good-faith, but mistaken, effort to enforce an old unwritten interpretation of the prohibitions about demonstrating in the Capitol," Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said in a statement, according to The Associated Press. "The policy and procedures were too vague. The failure to adequately prepare the officers is mine."
Sheehan, the mother of slain solder Casey Sheehan, has become a leading figure in the domestic anti-war movement since her vigil outside Bush's Texas ranch last summer. She was attending the speech (see "Bush Says U.S. Is 'Addicted To Oil,' Offers Few New Plans In Speech") as a guest of California Democratic Representative Lynn Woolsey and was arrested on unlawful-conduct charges and taken out of the Capitol in handcuffs before the address began.
Capitol police also escorted out Beverly Young, wife of Representative C.W. "Bill" Young (R-Florida), from the visitors gallery for wearing a shirt with a slogan backing the war in Iraq: "Support the Troops — Defending Our Freedom." Bill Young later told reporters his wife was humiliated and suggested Capitol police undergo sensitivity training.
"Neither guest should have been confronted about the expressive T-shirts," Gainer admitted.
Sheehan had entered the gallery a few minutes before the speech, more than half of which was devoted to Iraq and the war on terror, and was in her seat for less than a minute when a plainclothes Capitol police officer took her by the arm and said, "You've got to leave," and quickly removed her, Reuters reported. Sheehan, who smiled and did not resist the officer, was charged with a misdemeanor count of unlawful conduct at Capitol police headquarters as the speech got under way and was released on her own recognizance.
Capitol Police Sergeant Kimberly Schneider explained Tuesday that the rules of the Capitol strictly prohibit demonstrations of any kind in the galleries. Sheehan was arrested along with other activists in September for protesting outside the White House without a permit.
"It stunned me because I didn't know in America you could be arrested for wearing a T-shirt with a slogan on it,'' Woolsey told AP. "That's especially so in the Capitol and in the House of Representatives, which is the people's House."
In an open letter attributed to Sheehan posted on several Web sites (including filmmaker Michael Moore's) under the headline "What Really Happened at the State of the Union," Sheehan said she was "speechless with fury at what happened and with grief over what we have lost in our country." A spokesperson for the women's peace organization CodePink, which hosted Sheehan at a "People's State of the Union" event earlier in the day Tuesday, confirmed that the group had distributed the letter penned by Sheehan.
In the note, Sheehan called press accounts of the arrest distorted and said that she had second thoughts about attending because she didn't want to hear what Bush had to say and didn't want to be disruptive out of respect for Woolsey. She claimed she was escorted to her seat by the same person who would arrest her shortly thereafter.
"I had just sat down and I was warm from climbing three flights of stairs back up from the bathroom so I unzipped my jacket," the letter read. "I turned to the right to take my left arm out, when the same officer saw my shirt and yelled, 'Protester.' He then ran over to me, hauled me out of my seat and roughly (with my hands behind my back) shoved me up the stairs. I said something like, 'I'm going, do you have to be so rough?' "
She continued, saying the "officer ran with me to the elevators yelling at everyone to move out of the way. When we got to the elevators, he cuffed me and took me outside to await a squad car. On the way out, someone behind me said, 'That's Cindy Sheehan.' At which point the officer who arrested me said: 'Take these steps slowly.' I said, 'You didn't care about being careful when you were dragging me up the other steps.' He said, 'That's because you were protesting.'"
In the letter, Sheehan claims to have suffered bruises and muscle spasms from her rough treatment. As she was being processed, she said a sergeant came in and, seeing her shirt, said, "2,245, huh? I just got back from there."
She said that's when the "enormity" of her loss hit her. "I have lost my son. I have lost my First Amendment rights. I have lost the country that I love. Where did America go?" she wrote. Sheehan said she has lawyers looking into filing a First Amendment lawsuit against the government.
Earlier in the day, she had attended an event at the Democratic National Committee headquarters near the Capitol and told the San Francisco Chronicle that she is seriously considering a run against Democratic California Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of the leading liberal voices in Congress.
During Tuesday's State of the Union, Democrats in Congress held their applause in protest of President Bush.
[This story was originally published on 02.01.06 at 12:47 p.m. ET]