Politics

Gun rights hearing turns chaotic amid arrest of Parkland parent

A gun rights hearing on Capitol Hill escalated Thursday into a verbal altercation between two lawmakers amid the arrest of a parent whose son died in 2018’s Parkland, Fla., school shooting.

The fracas during a joint hearing held by the House Oversight and House Judiciary Committees began when Patricia and Manuel Oliver shouted aloud about their son Joaquin’s death before being removed by Capitol Police at the request of Reps. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).

“You took away my son,” Patricia Oliver shouted over Fallon talking about gun violence rates in Mexico compared to the U.S., according to video of the proceedings.

“You’re removed. You’re breaching protocol and disorder in the committee room,” Fallon told Patricia Oliver, as she continued to speak about her son, who was killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. After Joaquin Oliver’s death, his parents co-founded a gun reform group and have previously staged civil disobedience actions.

After the Olivers were removed by Capitol Police from the Rayburn hearing room, two officers pinned Manuel Oliver to the ground in the process of making an arrest, putting his face on the floor.

“Back up or you’ll go to jail next,” one officer shouted at Patricia, in response to her speaking to the officers and leaning over the arrest, according to video of the incident. The second officer kicked Patricia away. Patricia eventually made her way back into the committee room while the panel was called into recess.

“It was really awful,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) “They took them out of the room, and there was a sound like there was some big scuffle in the hallway.”

Fallon, who chaired the committees’ joint hearing on the Second Amendment, said it was unclear to him why the Oliver arrest occurred. He described hearing “a lot of ruckus” in the hallway from his position on the dais.

Then, during the panel’s brief recess, Cicilline and Fallon had a verbal altercation over the Olivers’ removal — a clash that Fallon described as more of “an intellectual exercise.”

The Democrat, however, maintained in an interview after the hearing that during the break Patricia Oliver had the right to “speak as loudly as she wants.”

Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) tweeted his disappointment with how the scene played out, accusing Fallon of “escalating” the situation and saying the Olivers should have gotten a warning. (Immediate removal is standard practice for disruptive attendees at congressional hearings.)

Frost ran out of the hearing and witnessed the arrest of Manuel Oliver, asking “what’s going on here?” and being repeatedly told to “get back sir” by the police.

The first-term lawmaker and gun safety activist, who got his start in the wake of the Parkland shooting in his home state, declined to comment to POLITICO following the arrest.

The Capitol Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fallon said that “I do not know why [Manuel Oliver] was arrested. He was not arrested for what he did in our committee hearing room … We just asked for him to be removed.”

“I’m gonna back the Capitol Police on that. He might have been resisting,” Fallon added.

The Texan said he would look into if any lawmakers encouraged Patricia Oliver to reenter the committee room, saying that such a move could “lead to censure that could lead to removal from committees.”

Nicholas Wu and Olivia Beavers contributed.

It started when Patricia and Manuel Oliver shouted aloud about their son Joaquin’s death before being removed from the room by Capitol Police at Republicans’ request.  

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