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Gainer's 'bullying' didn't start in D.C.
(Published February 6, 2006)


Beverly Young, the wife of a GOP representative from Florida, thinks U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer is an "idiot." She has immediate cause, since she and Cindy Sheehan were abused by Gainer’s troops during the State of the Union address. Gainer subsequently apologized, but the story of his incompetence and bullying tactics goes back far further.

This should be a matter of some concern given how much Congress is spending to protect itself from the consequences of its policies -- including a half-billion-dollar bunker and about the most heavily patrolled land in the world. There are nearly three Capitol cops for every member of Congress and each one is responsible for 17 percent of an acre. The per-acre cost of Hill protection: $802,920. In comparison, ordinary D.C. cops get to cover 6.88 acres each, at a per-acre cost of $10,383.

You would think a bunch of Congress members who were that scared would want a decent police chief. Perhaps no one told them the real story of Gainer.

Consider the case of Shirley Allen, which occurred while Gainer was head of the Illinois State Police.On Sept. 22, 1997, Allen's brother, accompanied by a local sheriff, arrived at the door of her Roby, Ill., home to take her to a hospital for a mental evaluation. According to the brother, Byron Dugger, Allen had become depressed, paranoiac and delusional since her husband died in 1989. Allen met the pair with a 12-gauge shotgun and insisted that Dugger was not her brother.

That began a 39-day standoff during which, according to Lois Romano in The Washington Post, "state police officials tried to lure out Allen with tactics reminiscent of the government’s botched assault in 1993 on a religious compound near Waco, Tex. -- they cut off her electricity and water, tossed in a tear-gas grenade, pelted her with bean bag bullets and blared Barry Manilow at all hours.

"Allen shot at the police twice, and her plight became a rallying point for national anti-government activists who charged that Allen’s rights were being violated. The national media descended on the tiny farming village of Roby. Police estimated that the siege cost taxpayers upwards of $20,000 a day -- or about half a million dollars."

Among the techniques: police "threw canisters of pepper spray into the house and sent in a police dog carrying a listening device. Allen shot the dog through the nose."

She eventually came out on her porch, was captured and taken to a hospital. The donnybrook had cost the state police twice as much as providing protection for the Democratic National Convention the previous year.

In an earlier article, Romano recounted some of the reaction:

"Neighbors and outside observers question whether the police actions, designed to coax Allen out in her depressed state, might instead push her over the edge. ‘The tactics are awful,’ said John Snyder, a psychology professor at Southern Illinois University and a crisis-intervention expert. ‘If she was paranoid before, she has a real reason to be paranoid now. … Whatever may have been wrong with her before is going to be more wrong now. They need to send in a mental health care professional -- not more police.’"

After a court hearing that December, the State Journal Register reported, Allen was released from a mental health facility based on the report of a psychiatrist who found that Allen "does not present a danger to herself or anyone else at this time" and state law that provides for a person to remain at home pending an examination and hearing.

Almost precisely five months later, The Washington Post reported that D.C. Police Chief Charles Ramsey (a former Chicago deputy police commissioner) planned to hire Gainer as his assistant chief. There was no mention, however, of Gainer’s leading role in what the Post itself had described only months earlier as "reminiscent of the government’s botched assault" on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. Nor was the incident mentioned in the paper’s pro-police hype concerning the abusive handling later of Washington demonstrations. It all just went down the memory hole.

The most ugly side of Ramsey’s and Gainer’s philosophy of policing was on full display during the April 16, 2000, anti-globalization demonstrations. The D.C. cops made 150 percent more arrests than were made the year before in Seattle, illegally shut down the demonstrators’ headquarters, intimidated print shops into closing, made illegal sweep arrests, broke into homes of protesters, visited demonstration leaders and threatened arrests, and attacked the news media, including one Washington Post photographer who was arrested and held for six hours. More than 100 square blocks were closed to the public, and arrestees were handled more abusively than at any other demonstration in the city's history.

It has been a firm part of the District’s tradition to treat visiting demonstrators not engaged in civil disobedience or violence with civility and non-violence. The two Chicago cowboys badly sullied the city’s reputation by leading their force in a violent and unprofessional manner.

How did Gainer end up as second in command of a police department in a city of 500,000 when he had been until then head of the state police in Illinois -- 25 times larger than the capital? It is possible that he was brought in to help lock down Washington after its federal takeover. He joined a fellow Chicago cop -- Chief Ramsey – as well as Odie Washington, former head of Illinois corrections (including the notorious supermax prisons) at a time when the GOP Congress was determined to make Washington safe for lawyers, lobbyists and campaign contributors. Gainer was well-credentialed: In 1988, he ran as a Republican for Cook County state’s attorney against Richard M. Daley.

Part of the socioeconomic cleansing of the capital city – still underway -- included draconian measures to discourage the minority poor from staying in D.C. Some of these were fiscal -- such as a tax break for predominately white first-time homeowners but no breaks for the lower-income blacks pushed out by them. But they also included a variety of punitive measures, including new restrictions on jury trials, increased lockups such as for trivial traffic offenses, stiffer sentencing, soaring marijuana arrests, a halving of the number of court-appointed defense attorneys, increased penalties for pot possession and the shipping of inmates to distant prisons.

Basically, if you cheated the IRS out of $45 million you were in line for a presidential pardon; if you were guilty of a minor drug offense you might be sent off to a privatized gulag in New Mexico where your relatives and friends couldn’t come to visit and phone calls were too expensive. In addition, Gainer and Ramsey recruited ill-trained out-of-city officers used to treating lower-income residents as suspects rather than citizens.

The Ramsey-Gainer police style -- based on the far cruder and more abusive traditions of Chicago, where one of the leading police histories is titled "To Serve and Collect" -- was unlike almost anything the capital has seen. There have been a few exceptions, such as the notorious police riot of 1971, when local cops arrested 12,000 peaceful protesters in the largest mass arrest in American history.

But on the whole, and especially under black police chiefs, the department has been more honestly and less abusively run than, say, those of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and L.A.

And it was not just demonstrators and blacks who noticed. The Washington Post eventually ran a story on Gainer under the headline "Ramsey's No. 2 Is Ranked No. 1 in Unpopularity: Police Resent Gainer’s Role." Among the story’s points:

-- "All he did after he got here was hammer the department in the media," said Sgt. G.G. Neill, head of the D.C. branch of the Fraternal Order of Police. "I don't think he gave the public a correct picture of how things are handled in the department. And that crushes morale."

-- Before an assemblage of top officers early in his tenure, Gainer told a district commander to "shut up," an outburst for which he apologized. "It shocked everyone in the meeting," said the commander, Lloyd Coward Jr., who has since left the department.

-- Through its no-confidence vote, the FOP made clear that it wants Gainer out. An association representing lieutenants, captains and other top-rank officers has also denounced him, saying members have been "subjected to abusive and profane language, being belittled in public settings, being subjected to tirades when Assistant Chief Gainer was not pleased."

-- Gainer is white; Ramsey and about 65 percent of the force are black. "What we have here is a black guy gets the job of chief of police, then he gets his white friend to go tell all the police officers what to do, and most of those police officers are black," said Ronald Hampton, president of the National Black Police Association and a former DC officer.

So it’s not surprising that Congress wants an underground bunker given who’s in charge of its above-ground protection.


Smith is editor of The Progressive Review. This article is adapted from a posting on his Web site,


EDITOR’S NOTE: On Aug. 6, 2004, while photographing security roadblocks, The Common Denominator's editor and publisher, Kathryn Sinzinger, and reporter Michael Hoffman were detained separately by U.S. Capitol Police, who also seized Hoffman’s camera. Gainer later apologized.

Copyright 2006 The Common Denominator