A New York congressman is under fire after CCTV footage appeared to show him activating a House office building’s internal alarm system, which Republicans are claiming was part of an effort to delay voting on a spending bill on Saturday.
The congressman, Representative Jamaal Bowman, is in his second term representing the Empire State’s 14th district, which includes parts of The Bronx, southern Westchester County, and Yonkers.
After an emergency alarm was set off in the Cannon House Office Building, where Mr Bowman’s office sits on the building’s third floor, reports emerged that a man matching Mr Bowman’s description had been seen pulling the alarm near a second-floor exit.
The alarm was triggered as Democrats on the House floor were seeking to slow down consideration of a spending bill which House Speaker Kevin McCarthy had called up for debate less than an hour earlier.
Democrats had expressed concerns that the bill, which extends government funding for 45 days, might contain objectionable provisions and had demanded more time to review it before voting.
Paul Starks, a spokesperson for the US Capitol Police Department, said in a statement that an alarm was activated at 12.05 pm, leading to the entire Cannon building being evacuated to allow officers to search the. building.
“The building was reopened after it was determined that there was not a threat. An investigation into what happened and why continues,” he said.
A still taken from CCTV footage and circulated by the department showed a man of a similar build, appearance and dress to Mr Bowman activating a fire alarm while sporting a circular lapel pin resembling those issued to House members.
Emma Simon, a spokesperson for Mr Bowman, said in a statement that he “did not realize he would trigger a building alarm as he was rushing to make an urgent vote” and “regrets any confusion”.
The congressman later told reporters: “I thought the alarm would open the door”.
The second-floor door he is pictured in front of in the CCTV footage is marked as one that is connected to an alarm, as it is not protected by a police security checkpoint and therefore not normally used except as an emergency exit.
It’s unclear why Mr Bowman would have thought pulling a fire alarm would have had any impact on the door, which is required by law to be operable from inside the building in case of an emergency.
It’s also unclear how Mr Bowman could not have realised that activating an individual fire alarm would cause the alarm system in the building to be activated.
The congressman is a former school principal, and as such, he would be familiar with the operation of fire alarm systems that are required by law to be installed in large public buildings.
Activating a false fire alarm in the District of Columbia is a misdemeanour which can be punished by as many as six months in jail.
The official account for the House Administration Committee, which oversees the House buildings and grounds, published a post on X (formerly known as Twitter) in the name of Chairman Bryan Steil which stated that the incident was being investigated and blamed Mr Bowman for the false alarm.
Asked about the incident at a press conference Saturday afternoon, Mr McCarthy, the House Speaker, said the House Ethics Committee “should look” at the situation and tacitly compared it to the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“This is serious ... when you think of how other people were treated when they wanted to come in and change the course of what was happening in this building,” he said.
Mr McCarthy said he would discuss the situation with the House Democratic Leader, Rep Hakeem Jeffries of New York, and said it “should not go without punlshment”.
“This is an embarrassment. You are elected to be a member of Congress and you pulled a fire alarm? In the minutes and hours before the government being shut down trying to dictate that the government was shut down — what is going to a person‘s mind like that?” he said.
Asked about the incident a short time later, Mr Jeffries declined to weigh in, stating that he had not seen the CCTV footage at issue and would have “no further comment” until he does.