West Virginia Man Arrested Near U.S. Capitol After Gun Found In His Vehicle Pleads Not Guilty, Released
Updated Thursday, Jan. 29, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
A 71-year-old West Virginia man was arrested Wednesday outside of the U.S. Capitol after a gun and 20 rounds of ammunition was found in his vehicle.
U.S. Capitol Police arrested Dennis Westover of South Charleston, West Virginia and charged him with carrying a pistol without a license outside of a home or business, according to a criminal complaint filed with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Police said at around 1:35 p.m. Wednesday an officer observed “a vehicle parallel parked in the middle of the intersection of Second Street and Washington Avenue, SW” — just a few hundred feet from where lawmakers and staffers can enter the Rayburn House Office Building that contains the offices of lawmakers and staff.
House lawmakers were not in session at the time.
According to police, Westover exited the vehicle and walked north before being stopped by an officer. The responding officer said Westover “was animated” and could be heard “shouting to guardsmen” who were on the opposite side of a fence.
An officer stopped Westover and, during questioning, he told them he came to Washington, D.C. to “see the fence that was around ‘my Capitol.’”
Asked whether he had a gun in his vehicle, Westover said there was a pistol in the center console. He told them he had a valid concealed carry license for the state of West Virginia and was told it was transferable to D.C. The West Virginia Attorney General's website does not indicate that West Virginia has concealed carry reciprocity with Washington, D.C.
Officers then placed Westover under arrest and he was later held at the Washington, D.C. Central Cell Block until his arraignment in court on Thursday.
According to the police report, Westover told police he had purchased the gun for “protection” for himself and his fiancée. Police also said Westover had not registered the gun in D.C. and he was not in possession of license for the District.
Police also say they found in Westover's vehicle a copy of his birth certificate, a will and "stop the steal paperwork" that included names and contact information for U.S. Senators and Representatives, as well as West Virginia lawmakers.
Westover told investigators he was "concerned with the honesty and integrity of the election." He also said he was engaged in a process of "righteousness, justice and truth."
Social media posts on Facebook show Westover attended the Jan. 6 “Save America” rally in Washington, D.C. with his fiancée.
Following a speech by then-President Donald Trump, hundreds of pro-Trump extremists broke into the capitol building in an attempt to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election as members of Congress were certifying each state’s electoral college votes.
Video posted to Facebook shows Westover also joined a small crowd of protesters at the West Virginia State Capitol on Jan. 9 — ahead of President Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
Westover's social media presence also suggests his interest in QAnon, a debunked internet conspiracy theory that perpetuates the belief that a group of Satan-worshipping elites who run a child sex ring are trying to control the nation's politics and news media.
In the interest of full disclosure, Westover’s fiancée is an employee of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. She did not return a request for comment on his behalf.
Westover’s arrest comes as security remains heightened in the nation’s capital following the inauguration of President Joe Biden. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin Wednesday warning of the potential for politically motivated violence by domestic violent extremists.
“Information suggests that some ideologically motivated violent extremists with objections to the exercise of governmental authority and the presidential transition, as well as other perceived grievances fueled by false narratives, could continue to mobilize to incite or commit violence,” the bulletin reads.
According to CNN, Westover appeared in court Thursday and entered a plea of not guilty. The judge presiding over his initial appearance said Westover posed no threat to public safety despite concerns made by a prosecutor, according to the news network.
Court filings show Westover was represented by a court-appointed public defender, and was released on a personal recognizance bond. He was ordered to remain out of Washington, D.C. until his next appearance or meetings with his attorney.
A woman who answered the phone at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Thursday afternoon said that Westover was scheduled to appear next on July 1 for a status hearing.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified the Jan. 6 event in Washington, D.C. as a "Stop the Steal" rally when it is more commonly known as the "Save America" rally.