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Tractor Man" In Prison

Guest Ldy Liberty

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Guest Ldy Liberty

A day after a judge sent "Tractor Man" to prison, two Virginia lawmakers said in any future incidents like that, the people responsible should be dealt with quickly and decisively.


"This is the seat of government, we have a responsibility to keep it going and to keep traffic moving," Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., said Thursday, adding that the average person living in the region agrees with that position.


On March 17, 2003, Dwight Ware Watson, 51, drove his tractor onto the National Mall and told U.S. Park Police he had organophosphate bombs in a metal box mounted on a trailer he was towing. That began a 47 hour standoff which caused gridlock downtown and into northern Virginia over four consecutive rush hours.


Watson -- a Whitakers, N.C., tobacco farmer -- was sentenced Wednesday to six years in federal prison for making a false threat to detonate explosives and destruction of federal property.


"One person shouldn't be able to upset the federal government and shut it down," said Davis, who chairs the House Government Reform Committee. According to Davis, ambulances couldn't reach area hospitals, and police were unable to respond to accident scenes.


"At what point do we put a stop to that stuff? And one hour after 'Tractor Man II" comes along, we go in there and take him out," said Rep. Ed Schrock, R-Va., suggesting that role be left to police special operations teams.


"That's what we have police and law enforcement officials for, to do that and the media be damned. When it comes to that kind of stuff, we have to take stronger action," said Schrock.


"If that's a concept that's going to be pursued, it's going to require some careful thought and consideration," said District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey. While U.S. Park Police had operational control of the "Tractor Man" incident because he was located on federal parkland, Ramsey would have been in charge had the incident occurred on a city street.


According to the chief, police commanders have to be allowed to determine whether such situations should be resolved by an appropriate level of force, or whether time should be allowed for negotiations -- particularly when those responsible do not present an immediate threat to people or property.


"I'm not giving that up," said Ramsey. Only when an incident is qualified as an act of terrorism does the FBI step in as the lead agency.


"The courts have made it clear that you can't shoot somebody because they're tying up traffic," said Art Spitzer, the legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area. "The use of deadly force requires an eminent threat to life and limb."


(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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