Capitol riot: Investigation launched over panic buttons being torn out before attack

Spokesman for progressive Democrat says new panic buttons have been installed as probe begins

Gino Spocchia
Thursday 14 January 2021 16:33 GMT

Related video: Correspondent Richard Hall's eyewitness account of the Capitol riot

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An investigation has begun into the removal of panic buttons from the congressional office of Ayanna Pressley prior to last week’s storming of the Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump.

It follows reports that the Democratic congresswoman’s chief of staff, Sarah Groh, found that panic buttons installed in Ms Pressley’s office had been ripped out, as they barricaded themselves in during the attack last week. 

A spokesperson for Ms Pressley told The Independent  that “relevant authorities” have since been informed of the removal of the panic buttons, and that an investigation has been launched. 

“During the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, Congresswoman Pressley’s Chief of Staff realised the duress buttons installed throughout the Congresswoman’s office suite had been removed," said spokesman Ricardo A. Sánchez on Wednesday night. 

“The matter has been raised with the relevant agencies and is currently under investigation.”

He added that the devices were in use before Wednesday’s assault, and that they were regularly tested and maintained.

“The safety of the Congresswoman, her family and our staff remain our top priority and at the direction of the Congresswoman, the Sergeant at Arms oversaw the installation of new duress buttons throughout the office following the attack,” said Mr Sánchez.

Ms Pressley, who represents Massachusetts’s 7th congressional district, told 7News Boston on Wednesday that discovering the panic buttons had been removed during the attack “was unnerving”, and that she had afterwards called for the investigation.

“Learning that those panic buttons had been removed from my office was unnerving," she told the news station. ““I called within hours for the [House] Oversight Committee to initiate a thorough investigation to understand those individuals and agencies that might have enabled this violent attack.”

It is the latest development since Ms Pressley’s chief of staff, Ms Groh, said in an interview with the Boston Globe that she went to reach for the panic buttons and discovered the unit had been removed, all the while, a mob was storming through the Capitol building.  

“Every panic button in my office had been torn out - the whole unit,” Ms Groh told the paper, adding that she could not believe why the panic buttons were removed. 

Ms Pressley is among a number of Democratic congresswomen who are supposed to have enhanced security measures in place, having been on the receiving end of attacks from the outgoing US president and his supporters.

Mr Trump, speaking in 2019, told Ms Pressley and other progressive black Democratic women in Congress - otherwise known as “the Squad” - to “go back” to “places from which they came”. 

Democrats accused the president of inciting the mob who stormed the Capitol last week, some of whom were found to be carrying ammunition, zip ties, and other weapons.  He told rally crowds before the attack to march on the country’s legislature with “strength”. 

Authorities announced on Tuesday that around 70 arrests had been made in relation to last week’s attack, and that “hundreds” were being investigated.

The attack led to the resignations of the head of the US Capitol police, amid criticism at the agency’s planning and response to the rioters, while two Capitol Police officers have since been suspended and at least 10 more are under investigation for playing potential roles in the riot. 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another member of “the Squad” in Congress, said in a video released on Wednesday that many Congress members “narrowly escaped death” in the attack.

She, along with many others, have called into question whether or not the Trump supporting mob had been supported or aided by lawmakers or security officials inside the Capitol. 

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