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W.Va. House Democrat Involved in Explosive Friday Removed from Committee Assignments

Mike Caputo
Perry Bennett
West Virginia Legislative Photography
Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, apologizes on the House floor on Saturday, March 2, 2019 for kicking in the doors of the chamber and injuring a doorkeeper on Friday, March 1, 2019.

A Democratic member of the West Virginia House of Delegates who was at the center of Friday’s explosive events has been removed from his committee assignments for the remainder of the legislative session.

Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was informed Monday he will not serve out the remainder of the  session on the Energy, Government Organization, Industry and Labor and House Rules committees. He was notified of that in action in a letter from House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay. 

Caputo admitted Friday to kicking in the door of the House chambers following a heated exchange in the rotunda. Other Democrats in his party had taken issue with an anti-Muslim display during “WV GOP Day” that falsely linked Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., to terrorist attacks like the ones on September 11, 2001.

The events that ensued led those same Democrats to stand on the floor and denounce the anti-Muslim sentiment and call for the ouster of Sergeant at Arms Anne Lieberman.

Liberman, who has disputed that she called all Muslims “terrorists” in an exchange with Democratic members, resigned Friday after meeting privately with Hanshaw.

A doorkeeper was injured in the incident involving Caputo. The extent of those injuries are as of yet unknown, with House leadership citing privacy issues involving medical attention and a personnel matter.

Hanshaw said it was Caputo’s use of force that led to the removal from committees.

“The events of Friday took the situation here in the House to a new level that we've not seen before. We had an employee that had to be given a medical checkup following the incident," Hanshaw said. “Regardless of where we draw the line and where we argue about what course of conduct is and is not -- or may or may not be appropriate -- certainly, we ought all be able to draw the line at use of force and physical violence as being a point that we're just not willing to accept and a line we're just not willing to cross here in the House. So there had to be some repercussions for that.”

Republicans mulled potential punishment against Caputo throughout the day Saturday.

Caputo said he met with the Republican caucus and privately with Hanshaw. The Democrat publicly apologized for his role in Friday’s events during a Saturday speech on the floor. He said he has also requested a meeting through Hanshaw to apologize to the doorkeeper.

When news of his removal from committees came down Monday, Caputo expressed disappointment and alluded to other instances of hate speech around the House this session.

“I apologized to everybody that I could absolutely apologize to. There were a lot of things that happened this year that could have warranted some discipline,” Caputo said. “But, obviously, for whatever reason the Republican leadership has chosen not to go there. But again, that's his prerogative to do that and I will abide by his decision.”

Caputo said Friday’s events were a result of escalating tensions between the parties this session.

Del. Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, made incendiary comments earlier this session about the LGBTQ community -- going as far as likening gay rights groups to terrorists and the Ku Klux Klan. While the West Virginia Republican Party and Hanshaw has denounced those remarks, Porterfield has not been formally disciplined in any fashion.

“This pressure cooker started very early in a session and from some hateful remarks made by a member of the Republican caucus -- and it has escalated to a point that I've never witnessed before,” Caputo said.

With six days left in the session, Hanshaw hasn’t yet ruled out further action against Caputo.

“The House maintains the right to discipline its own members under the Constitution and that goes all the way from something as simple as perhaps a verbal reprimand all the way to a motion to expel a member from the House,” Hanshaw said. “I wouldn't take any of those off the table until the end the session.”

The 60 Day session ends Saturday, March 9.

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