Idaho Capitol intrusion shocks lawmakers
Video shows man with gun inspecting desks, waste bin in Boise
BOISE – A man with a handgun used a tour for Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts as cover to inspect legislators’ desks and reach into a waste bin on the House floor.
The Jan. 10 incident became public Tuesday when Department of Administration Director Teresa Luna used a video clip to demonstrate the need for rules prompted by last year’s Occupy Boise encampment.
Now under review by lawmakers, the new rules don’t deal with the inside of the Capitol. But the video of the man’s actions shocked legislative leaders into exploring beefing up security. Guns of all kinds are allowed at the Capitol.
“Events like that should disturb all Idahoans,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “It certainly disturbed me.”
Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said: “To think that somebody is bold enough to have followed these children around with a sidearm in plain sight – who is also bold enough to go through trash cans, take pictures of representatives’ desks and shuffle their papers – all of that created a great deal of concern.”
As a result, public access to the House and Senate chambers has been suspended on weekends and after 6 p.m. weekdays, though the Capitol remains open until 10 p.m. Until now, citizens have been allowed to visit the chambers whenever the Capitol was open, a point of pride.
“This is the people’s house, and it gets them excited about their government and the freedoms we have,” said Hill, R-Rexburg. “When we start locking things up at 6 o’clock, it just saddens me.”
Leadership is working with the Department of Administration to fashion long-term security improvements for a Capitol that is far more open than most statehouses.
“We’re a security planner’s nightmare,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “But it is demonstrative of what we’ve tried to do in encouraging access.”
The man attached himself to an evening tour led by freshman Rep. James Holtzclaw, R-Meridian, who had been asked by a constituent to show the Cubs and Scouts around. “I thought he was a parent,” Holtzclaw said, noting that the troop leader assumed the man was a security officer because of his gun.
The man’s identity is unknown. He left the Capitol after an unarmed guard confronted him. The man said something like, “If I’m not being arrested or detained, I don’t have to answer your questions,” Luna said.
Idaho state police are in the Capitol from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; contract security officers provide around-the-clock watches in the Capitol and larger Capitol Mall.
Shortly before the 7 p.m. tour on Jan. 10, the man attended an ACLU “Know Your Rights” training session, which covered the rules proposed for the block outside the Capitol and for buildings and grounds of the mall. He attended the same training Jan. 5, offering participants pamphlets on Idaho’s open-carry law.
The 11-minute video of the man circulated widely among lawmakers and staff before it was made public.
Senate Sergeant at Arms Sarah Jane McDonald called the video alarming. “Most of us know not to take photographs of people’s desks,” said McDonald, who oversees Senate security. “Our mothers would have clobbered us.”
Shotguns in gallery?
The ACLU has sued in federal court on behalf of Occupy activists to overturn the rules governing the territory outside the Capitol. The group also is opposing the rules in legislative hearings.
“Free speech and redressing your government in protest is by its very nature meant to be disruptive,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU. “That’s the wonderful, wonderful thing about our democracy and the values that were put into our Constitution.”
But after seeing the video in Tuesday’s hearing, Hopkins met with Bedke and Hill. “There was nothing in our training that would have indicated to any individual that that behavior was acceptable,” Hopkins said. “We were as appalled as they were.”
Hill said his immediate concern was the Scouts: “We need to be reminded from time to time that we need to be cautious and have plans in place to protect all parties.”
Hill has urged lawmakers to be careful about what they leave on their desks, but he is also concerned about larger security issues. “What happens when six people come and sit in the front row of the gallery with shotguns across their laps?” Hill said. “I sure as heck am not going to leave my senators in there with that.”
Access may be limited
Guns and long knives were banned in the Capitol from 1996 to 2008 by executive order. Gov. Butch Otter let the order expire, citing a 2008 law in which the Legislature said it had exclusive power to regulate guns in Idaho.
Signs were erected outside the House and Senate galleries after the 2012 Occupy protests. They list prohibitions: food, drinks, men wearing hats, signs, sitting on rails, cellphones, distracting noises. Bags are subject to search. But there is no firearm ban.
Idaho State Police Capt. Sheldon Kelley said the next steps for the Capitol could include expanding the few areas that are off-limits to the general public. “If there isn’t any pertinent reason for the public to be there, they’re going to work on controlling access in sensitive areas,” Kelley said.
Senate Majority Leader Davis said lawmakers’ aim is to minimize any changes. He lamented the unidentified man’s “poor judgment that makes policymakers wonder if you have to have a rule. He is an aberration.”
Meanwhile, Davis is pressing for changes in the Occupy-prompted rules for the grounds and mall, citing concerns about limiting protests to seven days, banning events between midnight and 6 a.m., and barring amplification devices without permits.
Holtzclaw spoke about the incident from his desk, which had been inspected by the unnamed man.
“This isn’t my House, this is the people’s,” he said. “It will break my heart if a citizen can’t come up here and view this. The question is: How do we maintain that transparency and freedom while protecting the building and the people in it?”