Delegate accused of injuring House staffer apologizes

Photo courtesy of W.Va. Legislative Photography House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, apologizes to members of the House of Delegates Saturday morning.

CHARLESTON — A member of the House of Delegates accused of injuring a doorkeeper took time Saturday to apologize for his actions.

House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, addressed the house during a Saturday morning floor session one week before the 60-day legislative session wraps up.

“I know there are a lot of you who feel less of me today than you did yesterday,” Caputo said. “I can certainly understand that. I will do my best to rebuild your trust and your confidence in me, because that’s who Mike Caputo is.”

Caputo spoke to a caucus of the Republican House majority shortly before the start of the floor session Saturday after an early morning meeting of the House Rules Committee was set to discuss possible punishment for him. That meeting was postponed until after the floor session but was never rescheduled.

Caputo is accused of kicking the door to the House Chamber open Friday after being stopped from entering by House doorkeepers while the prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance were going on. One of the doorkeepers was injured in the ribs when the door was kicked open. Capitol Police are currently investigating the incident.

“I sincerely apologize for forcing that door open,” Caputo said. “I understand that one of the doorkeepers may have been injured and I just feel as horrible about that as you can ever imagine, and I want to personally apologize to him for that. He was just doing his job.”

The incident was one of several Friday after delegates raised objections to a display set up outside the House Chamber as part of WVGOP Day at the legislature.

ACT for America, labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, had a table set up with posters comparing a Muslim member of Congress to a terrorist, along with anti-Muslim and anti-refugee literature.

A number of delegates confronted the person manning the table to object to the imagery, including Caputo, who took out his anger on the door.

“I let my emotions overload my good sense,” Caputo said. “As a labor leader you try not to do that, and I broke the number one rule by doing that.”

One delegate, Michael Angelucci, D-Marion, got into a heated exchange with house Sergeant -at-Arms Anne Lieberman regarding the display. Lieberman allegedly told the delegate that all Muslims are terrorists. She announced her resignation effective Friday following the exchange.

The incidents were enough to make House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, step down from the podium Friday night to address the House over a series of incidents over the last few weeks that pitted lawmakers against each other. These included derogatory remarks against the LGBTQ community by one delegate, the removal of one delegate from a committee for mistreatment of committee witnesses, and the tone of debate on issues such as Campus Carry.

The West Virginia Republican Party, the organizer of WVGOP Day, released a statement 21 hours after the controversy distancing itself from ACT for America and the inflammatory display table.

“The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech,” said Chairwoman Melody Potter. “One of the exhibitors at our West Virginia Republican Party Day at the Capitol displayed a sign that we did not approve, were not aware of before the day started, and we do not support. Upon learning about the sign, we immediately asked this exhibitor to remove the sign.”

However, the display remained up after the Friday House floor session. Both Potter and party Executive Director Drew Constable could be seen walking among the display tables before the start of the floor session.

For Caputo, he hopes that members of the house can forgive him, and he hopes all delegates can move on as the session winds down to its last day on March 9.

“I just hope at the end of the day we can do what we were all here for, and that’s to represent the people in our districts in a diplomatic fashion and engage in heated argumentative debate,” Caputo said. “At the end of the day, as (Hanshaw) said yesterday, we should all remain friends. I hope you will give me an opportunity to rebuild my friendships with you.”