Lawmaker charged after anger over racist signs turns physical
Published 8:36 pm Monday, September 9, 2019
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A West Virginia lawmaker has been charged for kicking a door into a statehouse staffer and elbowing a delegate because he was mad about racist signs at the Capitol, authorities said.
A criminal complaint filed Friday charges Democratic Del. Mike Caputo with misdemeanor battery for the incident in March.
Caputo has admitted to kicking the door because he was upset about a display outside the House chamber on “WV GOP Day” that falsely linked U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
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Police said Caputo was “talking loud and saying nasty things” as he walked up to the chamber and forcibly pushed one of the doors, causing it to hit a House doorman. The staffer sought medical attention at a hospital, according to the complaint. It is unclear if he was injured.
Caputo then pushed Del. Sharon Malcolm with his elbow after telling her to get out of his way, police said. Malcolm, a Republican, initially said she wasn’t hurt but has since said that she experienced pain and is still under a physician’s care for her injury.
A voicemail left at Malcolm’s office was not immediately returned.
In a text message Monday, Caputo said “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.” His lawyer declined to comment.
West Virginia Democratic Party Chairwoman Belinda Biafore released a statement saying the accusations against Caputo are “a politically motivated scheme.”
The anti-Muslim imagery, shown during the legislature’s official GOP day, drew a harsh spotlight on the state.
The display included literature that warned of “The Islamization of American Public Schools” and “The Four Stages of Islamic Conquest.” Prominently featured was an image of the burning World Trade Center juxtaposed with a picture of Omar, one of the first Muslim congresswomen ever elected.
“’Never forget’ — You said,” was written over the Twin Towers. On Omar’s picture, a caption read, “I am the proof you have forgotten,” incorrectly linking her to the 2001 attacks.
The group whose name appeared on a sign next to the display, ACT for America, has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The organization issued a statement saying it was not behind the images after they circulated on social media.
“No wonder why I am on the ‘Hitlist’ of a domestic terrorist and ‘Assassinate Ilhan Omar’ is written on my local gas stations,” Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, wrote on Twitter in response to the images. “Look no further, the GOP’s anti-Muslim display likening me to a terrorist rocks in state capitols and no one is condemning them!”
The state Republican party issued a statement saying they do not endorse “speech that advances intolerant and hateful views.”
The display also led to the resignation of a House sergeant at arms who was accused by a lawmaker of saying “All Muslims are terrorists” after seeing the sign. Days after she stepped down, she issued a statement on Facebook disputing that she made the comment.