Areas near US Capitol reopen after suspicious packages found on Tuesday

WASHINGTON — Areas near the U.S. Capitol were shut down for a while for second day on Tuesday, according to a Reuters witness, as authorities said they were responding to a suspicious package.

U.S. Capitol Police said a suspicious package was found but did not elaborate. The packages were found outside the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center near the U.S. Library of Congress across the street, Capitol Police said in a statement.

By mid-morning, both packages had been declared harmless and road closures just outside those buildings were lifted.

One entrance to the visitor center was closed pending an investigation but the other remained open, the statement said. There is no impact to the U.S. Capitol or congressional office buildings, it added.

The shutdown came the day after a man was shot and wounded by police after he pointed what appeared to be a weapon at officers in the underground U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

The U.S. Capitol complex reopened amid visibly higher security Tuesday.

Larry R. Dawson of Tennessee, whom Capitol Police identified the man as the suspect, was shot by police a security checkpoint as he entered the visitor center.

Dawson remained hospitalized and will not make a court appearance on Tuesday, said spokesman Bill Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.

The 66-year-old was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a police officer while armed. Dawson underwent surgery at a local hospital and as of late Monday was in stable but critical condition, police said.

Dawson disrupted a House session last October by yelling he was a “Prophet of God.” He was issued a “stay away order” by the District of Columbia Superior Court that same month that required him to avoid the Capitol grounds, court documents show.


Monday’s incident, in which a bystander was slightly wounded, occurred at the tourists’ entry point to a building that had heightened security even before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has had periodic scares ever since.

With last week’s suicide attacks in Brussels, Belgium, that killed 35 people fresh on people’s minds, Capitol Police Chief Matthew R. Verderosa held a brief news conference at which he said terrorism seemed unlikely.

“We do believe this is an act of a single person who has frequented the Capitol grounds before and there is no reason to believe that this is anything more than a criminal act,” Verderosa, who became chief this month after about three decades on the force, told reporters.

There appeared to be more police officers than usual at some posts outside the buildings as the Capitol and its surrounding buildings resumed business Tuesday.

Verderosa said he did not know how many officers had fired at the suspect in Monday’s incident. He said no officers were injured.

Verderosa said a weapon had been recovered at the scene and the suspect’s vehicle had been found on the Capitol grounds and would be seized.

He also said a female bystander suffered minor injuries. Later Monday, spokeswoman Susan Griffiths of George Washington University Hospital said that hospital was about to release a patient it had treated for minor injuries and whom it did not identify.

Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s office said that after Dawson’s October arrest, he did not appear in court as scheduled the following month. Miller said a bench warrant was issued for his arrest and in January. Dawson wrote the court a letter in which he claimed to be exempt from laws because he is a prophet of God.

“No longer will I let myself be governed by flesh and blood, but only by the Divine Love of God,” he wrote, adding four exclamation points.

Other court paperwork said Dawson said he was previously in the Army and was honorably discharged in 1971.

An attorney listed as representing him in the case from October, John Copacino, did not immediately return a telephone message and an e-mail requesting comment Monday afternoon.

Records show Dawson was previously licensed in Tennessee to work as a funeral director. After his license expired in 2004, the state’s Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers voted three times to deny requests from Dawson to reinstate his license, citing the “applicant’s lack of good moral character.”

Kevin Walters, a spokesman for the state funeral board, said the denial resulted from an incident that occurred while Dawson was working as a school bus driver in a Nashville suburb. Dawson had written a letter to a young girl saying that God had told him to have sex with her, Walters said.

In 1998, before the Visitor Center was built, two Capitol police officers were fatally shot by a gunman who stormed a security checkpoint inside the Capitol itself. That shooter, Russell Eugene Weston Jr., was wounded and is custody at a federal mental facility.

Monday’s incident, which Verderosa said began at 2:39 p.m. EDT, unfolded with Congress on recess and the capital swarming with springtime tourists, and with nearly all lawmakers away on recess.

The Capitol was on lockdown for about an hour Monday and the White House also was briefly locked down.

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