Lawmaker presses for answers after 2 DC moms share distressing Secret Service encounter

After two mothers said they were traumatized following an encounter with U.S. Secret Service officers last week on the National Mall, D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is demanding more answers about what happened.

“Such an incident must not be tolerated anywhere — but it will not be tolerated in our nation’s capital,” Norton said in a statement Tuesday.

In her letter to Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Secret Service Director James Murray, Norton asked why the women were not read their Miranda rights, why responding officers weren’t wearing face masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and whether the officers took appropriate action.

Norton is seeking answers about a July 30 encounter on Constitution Avenue Northwest, where uniformed U.S. Secret Service officers have been accused of wrongfully detaining two D.C. mothers.

The women’s attorney, Timothy Maloney, detailed their experience in a letter to the Secret Service chief last weekend.

On the afternoon of July 30, Yasmeen Winston and her friend India Johnson had parked along the avenue, planning to take their babies to the fountains at the World War II Memorial, according to the lawyer’s account. Winston’s son is 6 months old; Johnson’s son, a year old.

Maloney said while the women were parked, and before they could even get out of their vehicle, a marked Secret Service cruiser slammed into the front corner of their vehicle. Then, officers jumped out and pointed rifles at the women.

Winston and Johnson were told their vehicle was reported stolen by two Black men who were armed and dangerous. They provided proof that the vehicle belonged to Johnson, and, as Black women, they didn’t fit the description. But the incident didn’t end there, Maloney said.

At one point, according to the lawyer’s account, a Secret Service officer pointed a rifle at Winston and yelled, “Unlock the door! Unlock the door!” Winston, according to Maloney, had her hands toward the roof of the car and responded, “My baby is in the back. Please don’t shoot my baby.”

Maloney said Winston exited the car, and both of the women were cuffed and prevented from attending to their babies for about an hour, even while the children were screaming and crying in the back seat.

At one point, according to Maloney, Winston asked the officers why they were not wearing face masks near their children, to which they gave no response.

After the women were cleared, according to their attorney, the officers illegally searched the vehicle and attempted to pop the dent out of the car caused by the police cruiser, which Maloney called “an attempt to conceal evidence of the vehicle ramming.”

Maloney said the women were examined at a nearby hospital and later returned to their car. When they arrived, according to the attorney, a marked Secret Service car was in the middle of the street with its floodlights shined on the women and their babies.

In a statement, a Secret Service spokesperson said the allegations were “misleading and in some instances, false,” adding that the vehicle the women were in was flagged by the Fairfax County Police Department in connection to several felonies. The spokesperson said the women, who were cleared, were only briefly detained, and their health and welfare was a priority.

An ambulance was also called to the scene out of “an abundance of caution,” the spokesperson said.

Norton said the incident deserves a hearing, or, at the very least, some answers.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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