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Gainer To Doomed Ticket Holders: Tunnel Was a Mistake

Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer opened his question-and-answer session with the "Survivors of the Purple Tunnel of Doom" Facebook group today with a big apology for law enforcement's " respond to the chaos which unfolded" on inauguration day.

Gainer wasn't able to provide many hard and fast answers to the myriad of questions, which were kept civil but still reflected the smoldering anger and frustration felt by the thousands of people who, despite holding valid tickets, were prevented from ever getting to their assigned premium standing areas.

As Senate sergeant-at-arms, Gainer is the chief security official on Capitol Hill, and thus, the top law enforcement authority overseeing the Jan. 20 inaugural ceremony on Capitol grounds.

One question that was asked repeatedly in different ways during this afternoon's session was: Why in the world were thousands of people forced into the Third Street Tunnel, where they were held for hours on end while history unfolded out-of-sight above them?

Here is how Gainer answered that question:

"The tunnel was never intended to be used. There is too little information on how many people were there, how and why this tunnel was used, and why the group was never merged into the surface lines.

"Initial information indicates some law enforcement were aware the public was in the tunnel. Pictures can show law enforcement officers in the tunnel. Knowledge of this was not made apparent to my office until long after the event had occurred. Clearly there was a communication break down. The Joint Investigative team is examining this issue."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, has ordered an investigation of the meltdown to be conducted jointly by United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department, Park Police and the offices of the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms. Gainer said the report could be completed within the next 30 days.

The full text of Gainer's opening statement to the doomed and gloomed ticket holders on Facebook follows:

For far too many of you Inauguration day did not turn out as planned. On behalf of the entire 2009 Inaugural Team, I apologize to each one of you who did not get onto the Capitol grounds, to those stuck in the tunnel, to those who had negative interactions with police officers, and those who experienced all three terrible situations. In addition, I regret the inability of the myriad of officials involved in the planning or the execution to respond to the chaos which unfolded.

Many of you had a very negative reaction to my initial reaction that "puffy or heavy coats" might have been one of any number of factors that contributed to our break-down that day. Obviously, I failed to better understand the anger, humiliation, frustration and sense of helplessness that was felt and experienced by so manyor explain myself.

The number of citizens adversely affected by this is still unclear. The initial information I had was less than 5000. I have now seen the photographs from the tunnel and the streets near the purple gates. I have watched hours of tapes of several of the gates to the Capitol grounds. I saw thousands of people in massive groups. Movement seemed impossible. They yelled for information and guidance. It apparently fell on deaf ears. Wether it is 5000 or 10,000, it is too many.

There is little solace for you in the fact that for many the event was successful, even if crowded and cold. That no one was seriously physically injured, hospitalized, nor were any arrests made is positive, but does not excuse failures elsewhere.

This was a massive undertaking; the biggest event in D.C. history. The planners included, as you know United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., Park Police, Presidential Inaugural Committee, Armed Forces Inaugural Committee, numerous executive branch agencies, D.C. government, and the States of Maryland and Virginia.

The plan was approved by many and executed by scores, depending on the area of responsibility. Senator Feinstein has directed that a very exhaustive and transparent investigation and review be conducted by the United States Secret Service, United States Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department of D.C., Park Police and the offices of the House and Senate Sergeant at Arms. This has begun. We assigned senior personnel who were NOT involved in the planning and execution. The Senator expects the report no later than 60 days and hopes that it is closer to 30.

Over these several days I have tried to provide information as I knew it or as it became known to me. My experience is that initial information is often inaccurate, or incomplete, and even insensitive because of the lack of context. I operated from the presumption that silence and no comment was frustrating per se.

Meeting with people who were in the tunnel and people involved in this Facebook group, reading and responding to emails, and watching the films (amateur and professional) continues to shed light on weaknesses in the planning and execution. Some failures resulted from good intentions but poor follow through; other failures were the result of inattention; many problems were directly related to the number of people.

Some facts as I know them today. The north bound tunnel was never intended to be used as a pedestrian walk way; the north bound tunnel was never intended to be used as a holding area for guests arriving at the purple gate, or for anyone else. But I watched the tape where law enforcement personnel directed people from the street to the tunnel. I believe, although at this point I cannot say with certainty, they were trying to clear the street and bring some order.

There have been many questions about gates being opened or closed. As to the Purple gate it opened before 8 a.m.; people with special needs were admitted. Watching films of that gate, and there are no direct angles, indicate that the flow of people was very slow, very limited around 9 a.m. The initial understanding is thast the USCP officers were attemping to bring some organization to the gate area. People moved through this gate until well afternoon.

There was room on the grounds in overflow areas; the use of those overflow areas was part of the plan if more people came than past experience indicated. Many more came, everybody invited came. But the same amount of tickets were given for this Inaugration as the last several. The reason everbody did not get through the screen into those open overflow areas is a central as yet unanswered question. The joint investigative is working that as a key question.

Why was the gate area near purple so congested, as well as near the blue gate and the silver entrance? Preliminarily, based on interviews, reviewing tapes, emails, this face book information, some people came to the incorrect gate, too little information for those not familar with the area to navigate their way to the correct gate, hundreds, maybe thoudsands arrived with tickets sent to them by enties which were meant to be commemorative and were not valid for admission, many heading to the parade and they could not get to their gates, poor, incorrect or no crowd mangement in the vicinity of the gates, the Mall filled quickly and people wandered or were improperly advised to try other streets or, unfortunately, tunnels.

We continue to gather facts. I respectfully request you give the joint review team an opportunity to complete the report.

We are here to listen (read) ; we want to understand more about your experience. But, I have another confession; I am brand new to Face Book; I joined last night. Although I typed many a homicide investigation during my days in Chicago, I remain a slow, hunt and peck typist. I love spell check on my computer and BlackBerry and regret I have not found that same support on Face Book. So give me some slack in that area.

I cannot answer all your questions; all the facts are not avilable yet; the investigation and review continues. In addition, many more were involved in the planning and execution and they are not here with me.

But all the leaders of this operation are committed public servants who deeply regret our collective or systemic failures. We will get to the bottom of those weaknesses or failures and also tell about things that worked.

Thank you.

By Mary Ann Akers  |  January 27, 2009; 5:40 PM ET
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Next: Obama Is the Only Aspirin for Doomed Inaugural Ticket Holders


This was a horrible fiasco. I've mentioned elsewhere how outrageous it must have felt to folks who jumped through all the hoops to get hard to come by tickets, paid round trip fair from, say, California, paid for a night or two of lodging in DC, and were turned away by security guards.

I'm glad to see that it's being followed up on in the Washington Post. Probably as a result of that, it's also being followed up on in government, another indication that crappy as our government is, it must still from time to time answer to its citizens.

Thank you, Washington Post and Mary Ann Akers for ensuring that this outrage doesn't just get brushed under the rug.

Posted by: officermancuso | January 27, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Gainer still does not get it and he again blames people coming to the wrong gate. The thousands of poeple at the purple gate had tickets. The truth is Gainer is incomptent and they assumed people would not attend they did not have the correct number of security people to screen and did not open in time. They planned for failure. Gainer should resign or be fired!

Posted by: gjspa2 | January 27, 2009 7:47 PM | Report abuse

I was in the middle of this mess, and no authority figure on site, DC police, Va. State police, etc. had any clue as to what to do. I was sent into the tunnel along with thousands of others and when i arrived on the other side, was told to go back. The very polite DC officer was unable to contact anyone. Hundreds of people were walking down the up ramp, but she refused to let anyone out of the tunnel.
I then walked about 3 miles with little or no direction before finally getting into a real line.
No one who should have, had any idea what was going on.

Posted by: patrickerowland | January 27, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

Mary Ann,

I am Anita Martineau who can be reached at I am concerned that perhaps the discussion thread by Terrance Gainer on Facebook is a scam being perpetrated by an impersonator. Two posts I made on the thread tonight expressing this suspicion were removed within an hour. I reposted the following message and we will see if it remains online:

One of my earlier posts point out my concerns:
- There are many misspellings in the original post from "Terrance Gainer" to believe that the U. S. Senate would permit release in this forum.
- It is highly unlikely that someone with as much authority as Terrance Gainer would be chatting casually with victims about his new experience as a FB user. Impersonators use this technique to build false trust in victims.
- Why is it that the profile only lists him as with "U. S. Congress" -- he is the Sergeant-at-Arms for the U. S. Senate only.
- There is no mention on his Senate webpage that he planned to engage in this Facebook activity.
- I was an investigator for many years and it is standard practice not to release ANY information in a pending investigation, but wait to release it only when completed.
- The article about Terance Gainer participating in this discussion thread did not provide any information verifying that the real Terrance Gainer planned to participate in this.
- My earlier posts sharing these concerns was REMOVED from this website. Why? I believe someone is hacking into this site and pepetuating a cruel hoax.
- I don't mean to make anyone who was in this debacle feel worse, because I was in the chaos, too, and was refused entry to the U. S. Capitol grounds. I have real concerns for those who are experiencing genuine PTSD symptoms as a result and feel compassion for the need to have answers. However, we must also be sure we do not become victims again because we are too quick to trust. Please be cautious and protect yourself.
God bless.

Posted by: JustBrowsing1 | January 27, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

terence gainer was so hated as a DC deputy chief,
his own men put pepper spray into his facemask
during the world bank demonstrations.

Posted by: patb | January 28, 2009 1:59 AM | Report abuse

Gainer and Chief of Police Morse were both clueless on inauguration day they should both be fired! They never had a plan in place to get eveyone one in on time. They assumed most people would not come.

Posted by: gjspa2 | January 28, 2009 4:28 AM | Report abuse

Thousands of people are losing their jobs, and people are losing sleep because they didn't get to see the inauguration in person? Get some perspective, people.

Posted by: mateo_md | January 28, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

The possibility of impersonation, mentioned below, seems plausible. It would be nice to know whether the Post contacted Gainer's office to verify that it was indeed him on facebook.

The message actually was written in the style I'd expect of a senior police officer, and the profile discrepancies aren't egregious, but the total lack of independent, off-line verification leaves the possibility of impersonation wide open.

To quote the keyboard-wielding canine in the classic New Yorker cartoon: "On the Internet, no one knows you're a dog."

Posted by: DupontJay | January 28, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

thanks, mary ann for following up on this and reprinting gainer's statement -- no doubt crafted by a crisis management team. i wonder how much that cost the taxpayers....

Posted by: mycomment | January 28, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

Senator Feinstein's new release after the inauguration asked people to send info to the Secret Service for their investigation but did not give contact information.

This is where email should go for the investigation: ''

I would also suggest putting "purple gate investigation" in the subject line of the email

Posted by: chats | January 28, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Gainer should be fired.

Posted by: mysammy | January 28, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

SSA Gainer has become more of a politician that of a public servant. I hope the appropriate Senate committee does the right thing and "lets him go".

Posted by: SSAemployee | January 28, 2009 12:22 PM | Report abuse

I am GRATEFUL to you Mary Ann for doing such great reporting and keeping the heat on this subject!!! Thank you SO much as I believe without your persistence, this would have all been dropped like a hot potato.

I am disturbed by Anita Martineu's observations and having similar skills as hers, have to concur that I do not like these irregularities/observations she pointed out. Are you investigating her assertions? I feel she has VALID concerns and suffering from the PTSD symptoms she brought up, myself, would hate to be victimized in all this yet again. Please let us know if it's possible this is a hoax! Thanks Mary Ann!

Posted by: Photogirl | January 28, 2009 4:27 PM | Report abuse

This is so typical of Dianne Feinstein. I am from California and have voted for her each time she has run; but no more. She refuses to get into the fray. If she would have stood up and taken some of the blame (for insufficient planning; and who could be vindictive for that given the circumstance). Instead, s@#t hits the fan, she tries to keep any from getting on her. California deserves better!

Posted by: nwsjnky1 | January 28, 2009 11:51 PM | Report abuse

There is no doubt in my mind that the man ostensibly in charge of this extremely dangerous situation should be fired. It was not only the purple, silver, or blue tickets holders not getting in at stake here. At stake were thousands of lives - lives of people at real risk of being trampled to death. Having been in the middle of the crowd in ingress and egress, I was appalled at both the lack of skill of officers I did see, and lack of officers period as we all tried to leave at once. Terrifying and infuriating. I hate to say it, but what flashed through my mind is that they had all gone to Dunkin Donuts for coffee.

Posted by: ebliversidge | January 30, 2009 10:16 AM | Report abuse

"Initial information indicates some law enforcement were aware the public was in the tunnel"? What? Of course they were. This is so obvious as to be laughable. I was at 3rd and D around 10:30 that morning telling a DC policeman standing there that I was trying to get across Penna. Ave. to the other side of the parade route. He paused in the middle of telling me to walk through the tunnel to radio in to his dispatch that a fire truck was entering the pedestrian-packed tunnel and should he leave his post to help with this potentially dangerous situation.

Initial information also indicates some law enforcement were aware the sky is blue and the sun rises in the east. What on earth?

Posted by: bug451 | January 31, 2009 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Of all the indignities heaped upon us that day, Gainner's stupid, uninformed, unfeeling comment about heavy clothing causing the mall to fill up early takes the cake (totally false in reality).

It's right up there with the fact that there wasn't a single porta potty outside the fence for the hundreds of thousands of people trying to get on the mall.

I did see what looked like every paddy wagon from 150 miles in all directions poised to handle all the miscreants that were sure to show up. Sorry to disappoint, but the crowd was exceptionally well behaved in spite of everything. If this were not true there really would have been chaos and terrible injuries.

Anybody who thinks any serious effort was made to accomodate this crowd has rocks in his head. Somebody's head needs to roll.

Posted by: LoyalDemocrat | February 3, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse

RESIGN. It's that simple. You FAILED at the task you were given. You are paid a handsome governement salary for your "expertise" and you FAILED. You FAILED to run the event; you FAILED to respond appropriately; and now you are FAILING to communicate in an acceptable manner with the very people you FAILED. Do everyone a favor and RESIGN.

Posted by: sassydem | February 3, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

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