Capitol Police Have Arrested Woman in a Wheelchair 15 Times—but Not MAGA Mob?

Michael Daly
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

The pro-Trump thugs who charged up the Capitol steps on Wednesday were met with what seems like a different police department than 32-year-old disability activist Stephanie Woodward has encountered when being arrested at least 15 times.

Woodward had never been left with hard feelings, even after a half-dozen cops lifted her from her wheelchair, carried her out to the street, and set her on the sidewalk with her hands cuffed behind her back.

“I had a job to do and they had a job to do,” she said. “I wasn’t upset they were arresting me.”

But the Capitol Police were clearly not doing their job as she watched videos of the Trumpists at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“I am upset they are not treating the protesters today the same way they treated me when I was protesting for health care,” she told The Daily Beast.

‘Piss-Poor Planning’: How Police Bungled the Capitol Riot

By her experience, the Capitol Police were always prepared, with zip tie flexi-cuffs on their belts, already looped in anticipation of arresting any protesters who failed to heed their orders.

“When they knew a large crowd was in D.C., they would prepare for us to come to the Capitol,” she told The Daily Beast. “The zip ties were always ready for your hands to go into them.”

She did not see any arrests as the pro-Trump mob stormed in. And the cops did not seem to have flexi-cuffs at the ready.

“They would carry me out, or drag me out or push my wheelchair out,” she recalled of days when she failed to comply. “Today, I’m seeing [the cops] allowing people through and taking selfies with them in the Capitol.”

She added, “That is a completely different experience than I had being a peaceful protester with no violence whatsoever.”

She had become familiar with many of the Capitol Police.

“I’m a regular protester in a wheelchair,” she said. “You tend to get recognized by the Capitol Police. You know them by name. They know you by name.“

But even the cops she knew had not been as friendly with her as some were with the pro-Trump mob in videos Wednesday.

“I can tell you that they never consented to me just putting my face to their face and taking a selfie,” she said.

And the disparity in police response was much discussed by her network of protesters.

“The Capitol Police never had kid gloves like that with us,” she said. “A lot of people are asking how can [the cops] be so complicit.”

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Capitol Police did not hesitate to arrest peaceul protester Stephanie Woodward in the past. She doesn’t understand why a violent mob got a pass.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy Stephanie Woodward</div>

Capitol Police did not hesitate to arrest peaceul protester Stephanie Woodward in the past. She doesn’t understand why a violent mob got a pass.

Courtesy Stephanie Woodward

The difference in the usual response to protesters was just as jarring for retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Colleen Boland, who has often encountered the Capitol police as an anti-Trump demonstrator.

“They would never have let us get to the top of the steps,” Boland told The Daily Beast. “That is not how the Capitol Police roll.”

In her various run-ins with them, she said, the Capitol Police seemed ready to respond to any eventuality.

“With precision,” she said. “They were completely organized. These guys know how to take care of protests.”

If things had gone on Wednesday as generally they have in her experience, the trespassers would have been stopped on the steps and given three warnings to disperse.

“And if they didn’t get off the steps, they would have been immediately arrested,” she said. “And if they pushed though they would have been tear-gassed.”

Boland was arrested on the steps at an impeachment-related protest exactly a year before Wednesday’s insurrection. The Capitol Police had been as prepared as always, arrayed so as to block the steps when she and her fellow protesters arrived. A lieutenant she had come to know from other demonstrations came over.

“Okay, Colleen, you know the drill,” he said by her recollection. “You either leave, or I arrest you.”

“You know I can't leave,” she said.

“I know that,” he said. “Turn around.”

She complied and he applied some plastic flexi-cuffs. The decidedly civil disobedience ended with her being taken in a police wagon to a holding facility and issued a summons.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Stephanie Woodward, after one of her 15 arrests by Capitol Police.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Courtesy Stephanie Woodward</div>

Stephanie Woodward, after one of her 15 arrests by Capitol Police.

Courtesy Stephanie Woodward

But there is nothing civil about what she saw in videos of the protesters on these same steps exactly a year later.

“As soon as I saw them go up the steps and reach the top, I said, ‘This is being allowed to happen,’” Boland told The Daily Beast.

The District of Columbia Police reported that 52 people were arrested in connection with Wednesday's protest. But only 14 of those arrests were made by the Capitol Police. That is 560 fewer than the Capitol Police arrested at a June 28, 2018, peaceful protest against Trump's family-separation immigration policies.

Fourteen Capitol Police officers were injured on Wednesday, at least one seriously. That is 14 more than have been injured at the many protests Boland and Woodward have attended at the Capitol.

The chief of the Capitol Police, Steven Sund, was with the District of Columbia cops for 25 years, heading its special operation division and coordinating four presidential inaugurations. None of those were preceded by a storming of the Capitol, but Wednesday's attack was accompanied by enough warnings that it should not have been a complete surprise to anybody.

“United States Capitol Police (USCP) officers and our law enforcement partners responded valiantly when faced with thousands of individuals involved in violent riotous actions as they stormed the United States Capitol Building,” he said in a statement hours before he resigned.

“These individuals actively attacked United States Capitol Police Officers and other uniformed law enforcement officers with metal pipes, discharged chemical irritants, and took up other weapons against our officers. They were determined to enter into the Capitol Building by causing great damage.”

Sund did not explain why his cops were so unprepared when both he and the department have considerable experience with crowds and disorder. The disparity in presence is all the more disturbing to Boland and Woodward because the protesters on Wednesday were bent on disrupting the certification of the presidential proceeding and the peaceful transition of power that is at the core of our democracy.

“Terrorism,” Boland said.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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