CNN blows story about Virginia man arrested at police checkpoint in Washington, D.C.
A law enforcement official said investigators now do not consider the security contractor a threat to public safety.
Throughout Saturday, CNN breathlessly covered what it called “disturbing story."
“US Capitol Police arrested a Virginia man as he attempted to pass through a police checkpoint in a locked-down zone of downtown Washington, DC, Friday with 'fake' inaugural credentials, an unregistered handgun and over 500 rounds of ammunition, according to court documents,” the first story on its website said.
Jim Scuitto, a CNN anchor and chief national security correspondent, hyped the story on Twitter. "New: US Capitol Police arrested a Virginia man as he attempted to pass through a police checkpoint in downtown Washington Friday with fake inaugural credentials, a loaded handgun & over 500 rounds of ammunition, CNN reporting," he wrote.
Anchor Wolf Blitzer got in on the game, playing up the "fake" credentials – and even threw in a plug for his show.
"There's very disturbing breaking news here in Washington. @CNN reports U.S. Capitol Police arrested a Virginia man with fake inaugural credentials, a loaded gun and over 500 rounds of ammunition. I'm anchoring special @CNNSitRoom coverage today 3-7PM ET," he wrote on Twitter.
But then the story started to fall apart.
The man, Wesley Beeler, 31, of Fort Royal, Va., appeared over the weekend for a brief court hearing and was immediately released from custody. "A law enforcement official said that investigators do not consider him a threat to public safety," CNN eventually reported.
Turns out Beeler was a security contractor who did have an inaugural credential, but it was not recognized by the officers, according to an Associated Press law enforcement source. Capitol Police spokeswoman Eva Malecki said Beeler had presented "a non-government issued credential."
Beeler’s father told the The New York Times that his son is working an armed security job with the Capitol Police. As such, he was authorized to have a firearm.
After his release Saturday, Beeler told The Washington Post he simply forgot to take his weapon out of his vehicle when he left his home in Virginia – where he is licensed to carry a gun. He said "it was an honest mistake."
"I pulled up to a checkpoint after getting lost in D.C. because I’m a country boy," he said. "I showed them the inauguration badge that was given to me" by his employer, MVP Protective Services.
"It was just me forgetting to take it out of my truck before I left for work. I don’t know what the D.C. laws are. It still comes back on me, but I’m not a criminal," he said.
"This blew up into this whole domestic terrorist thing. Just because things are happening out there doesn’t mean that’s what I’m trying to do. I forgot my firearm was in the truck and I was just trying to make it to work," Beeler told FOX 5.
Beeler also said he was hired to guard media equipment at Seventh Street and Constitution Avenue Northwest, nine blocks from the White House, and that his credential had previously been enough to enter the area.
CNN later changed its story, calling Beeler's credentials "unauthorized." Scuitto also pulled back his breathless tweet.
"Important update: According to the court filing, CNN now reporting, the man presented an 'unauthorized' credential for the area he was seeking to access, not a fake credential. Suspect was arrested for possession of an unregistered firearm and ammunition, among other offenses," he wrote.
See the rewritten, corrected CNN story here.