Special police division

Amy Olson

The man who is accused of assaulting a state senator with a pie in March went on trial Monday in Ramsey County Court.
Bob Greenberg, 31, faces gross misdemeanor charges of disrupting the state Legislature and misdemeanor charges for disorderly conduct and fifth degree assault for pushing a pie into Sen. Carol Flynn’s face on March 30 outside the Senate chambers.
While colorful incidents like the pie assault stand out in public memory, crime is an ongoing concern at the state Capitol.
In 1998, officers in the State Patrol’s Capitol Security Division arrested 64 people for minor offenses like property damage to more serious crimes like bomb threats and assaults.
Thousands of people come to the Capitol each day as employees or visitors, so some criminal activity is bound to occur, said Capt. Jay Swanson, a state trooper with the Capitol Security Division.
“The Capitol complex resembles a small city,” Swanson said. Swanson added that this year has been eventful already, noting that it’s been one of the most memorable during his 20-year career with the State Patrol.
Although the first half of the Legislature’s 81st session was scheduled to end Monday at midnight, crime concerns will not end when the House and Senate adjourn for the summer. The Capitol Security Division will begin preparing for the summer tourist season.
“We’ll probably take a few days to catch our breath and then start planning for the Taste of Minnesota,” Swanson said, which will be held at the Capitol over the Fourth of July.

Crimes and misdemeanors
In a building some describe as a “living museum,” keeping the peace requires being able to respond to medical emergencies as well as crimes. Last year, paramedics responded to 15 medical crises.
But not all medical emergencies involve heart attacks.
“People are attracted to the building for a wide variety of reasons,” Swanson said, adding that the Capitol is a “magnet for mentally ill people.”
Swanson said incidents involving people who are suspected of being mentally disturbed occur at the Capitol on a weekly basis. On Monday morning, state troopers escorted a man out of a conference committee meeting because he had created a disturbance; he was later taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul for psychiatric evaluation.
“Emotions run strong here,” Swanson said, adding that people sometimes “cross the line” when they express opinions.
Capitol security officers have already handled one bomb threat this session. That threat came Thursday, when state troopers were forced to evacuate the building; no bomb was found.
But bomb scares in the past have been more than idle threats. Rep. Tom Osthoff, DFL-St. Paul, said the loading dock at the State Office Building blew up in the late 1980s when a bomb went off.
Osthoff, who is a 25-year veteran of the Legislature, said security forces evacuated the Capitol on a semi-regular basis during the “anti-war days” in the 1970s.
Capitol shenanigans
But not all of the incidents occur outside legislative chambers and not all of them are crimes.
On the last night of session during the mid-’70s, legislators left after failing to reach the midnight deadline on an important capital bonding bill. State troopers were sent out to the airport to bring the wayward officials back to the Capitol.
“Rumors have it people were promised roads and other things to get the votes,” said former senator Tony Bennett, who is now a Ramsey County commissioner. The corralled legislators approved the bill, ending the session after the deadline.
During the late 1930s, renovation crews constructed a facade to block off the balcony overlooking the desk where the speaker of the House sits. As Capitol folklore would have it, the wall and sculpture called “Minnesota, the Spirit of Government” were built after farmers pelted the speaker’s desk with produce to protest low crop prices during the Great Depression.
But the more likely explanation for the construction is that the growing staff simply needed more office space, said former Representative Peter Rodosovich, who headed the House restoration committee in the early 1990s.
Other less serious incidents in collective memory include covering up clocks in the House and Senate on the last day of session during the 1970s, while other representatives placed bets on which of the 24 light bulbs illuminating the top of the chamber dome would burn out first.