Charleston – Six months after a West Virginia delegate, angered by an anti-Muslim display at the Capitol, kicked open the door when a doorkeeper wouldn't let him into House chambers, Capitol Police have filed a criminal charge over the incident.
They also accuse Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, of pushing another delegate out of his way once he entered the chambers.
In a statement Monday, Caputo responded that while he had "already apologized for losing my temper that day," he "certainly didn't intend to physically hurt anyone."
On March 1 of this year, Brenda Arthur, a woman who is well-known to some lawmakers for lobbying for bills to restrict refugee admissions, set up an anti-Muslim display in the West Virginia Capitol, as part of the Republican Party's "Republicans Take The Rotunda" event. One poster showed an airplane crashing into the Twin Towers on 9/11, and the words "'Never Forget,' You Said,'" juxtaposed with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is from Somalia.
Angered by the booth, Caputo has said he attempted to enter the House chamber to check on other members of the House of Delegates. However, the prayer and pledge of allegiance portion of the floor session had begun, and Caputo has said the doorman, identified in a criminal complaint as Logan Casterline, would not allow Caputo to enter. Caputo has said that he then kicked in the door, and he offered a public apology when he learned "one of the doorkeepers may have been injured."
According to Capitol Police's version of events, as described in a criminal complaint filed in Kanawha County Magistrate Court Friday, Caputo, of Rivesville, "was making a commotion, talking loud, and saying nasty things as he started up the steps."
"The defendant was observed walking up to the door of the chamber and according to witnesses raised his hands, and either pushed, hit, or kicked the door, and stated open the 'GD' door and nobody keeps me out," the complaint states. "The double door entrance of the chamber had glass windows in each door and would have allowed for easy visibility into the same.
"The defendant pushed the chamber door into and struck the HOD Doorman, Logan Casterline, as he entered the chamber," the complaint states. "After the incident, Mr. Casterline complained of pain and sought medical attention, on site and at a local hospital."
Capitol Police also accuse Caputo of pushing another member of the House of Delegates, Sharon Malcomb, R-Kanawha.
"Delegate Sharon Malcolm was interviewed after the incident and stated that while she was in the chamber, as the session was starting, the defendant stepped around her and advised her to get the 'F' out of his way," the complaint states. "She stated he then took his elbow and pushed her out of his way.
"She stated that she was out of his way and that he had to come up behind her in order to hit her with his elbow. She stated that he was already around her and had to turn to strike her. Delegate Malcolm stated that she wasn't initially hurt, but she was sore, and later advised the Capitol Police that she had sought medical attention for pain that she had been experiencing on the right side of her chest and shoulder, which is the area the defendant struck her.
"Delegate Malcolm further advised, that she has continued to experience pain, and is still under physician's care for this injury. Based on information obtained from witness statements, the complainant believes that a battery occurred on Sharon Malcolm and Logan Casterline."
In a statement Monday afternoon, Caputo responded:
"I was very surprised and disappointed to learn today that I have been charged criminally regarding my actions back on March 1, 2019 at the West Virginia House of Delegates. I have already apologized for losing my temper that day, but I certainly didn't intend to physically hurt anyone, and don't believe I committed a crime.
"I will not be goaded into a battle of words in the press. I will let others speculate as to what prompted these charges to be brought.
"Tim DiPiero and Lonnie Simmons, of DiPiero, Simmons, McGinley & Bastress, PLLC in Charleston, will be representing me and gathering some key evidence of which the prosecutor's office may not be aware of."
In a previous interview, Caputo said as the minority whip he was the highest ranking member of the minority party that day, since House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, was absent, and he wanted to control the emotionally charged situation.
"My goal was to get in that chamber, protect my members, go to the speaker and try to figure this thing out," he said at the time.
State laws says that for a person to be charged with misdemeanor battery the person must "unlawfully and intentionally" make "physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature to the person of another" or "unlawfully and intentionally" cause physical harm. If convicted, Caputo could be confined in jail for not more than 12 months or fined not more than $500, or both fined and confined.
Asked about the delay in filing a charge, Kanawha Prosecutor Chuck Miller said his office didn't receive a report from Capitol Police until a few weeks ago. He also said it would take some time to interview members of the Legislature, who live across the state.
J.C. Chambers, of the Capitol Police, said that it took awhile to "get everything together," and that police had a year to file the charge, but that "nobody was trying to hold us up." He referred further questions to the prosecutor's office.
Jared Hunt, spokesman for the House of Delegates, said, “This is a law enforcement matter that, based on our understanding, is being handled by the Capitol Police and Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
"House leadership has not been involved in this matter since the date the incident occurred and was referred to Capitol Police; therefore, we would refer any comment on the investigation or decision to pursue a criminal charge to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety and the Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office,” he added.
Following the incident, nearly 30 West Virginia Republicans introduced a resolution to publicly reprimand Caputo. Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, had introduced another resolution to expel Caputo from the House of Delegates. Those resolutions were tabled.
Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, also stripped Caputo of his committee assignments following the incident. Those assignments were since restored.
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