Rep. Issa calls for charges to be dropped against Southland man who interrupted State of the Union

A demonstrator shouts during a State of the Union address at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, US, on March 7, 2024.
Steve Nikoui shouts as President Biden delivers his State of the Union address March 7. (Shawn Thew / EPA via Getty Images)

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Bonsall) on Tuesday urged Capitol Police to drop charges against the Southern California father who interrupted the State of the Union address by shouting his son's name and the place where he was killed in Afghanistan.

Steve Nikoui, 51, father of a U.S. Marine killed in 2021 when U.S. military forces withdrew from Afghanistan, was arrested March 7 in the House chamber for interrupting President Biden’s State of the Union address. He yelled the names of Marines killed in a suicide bombing, including his son Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, and "Abbey Gate," the location of the airport attack.

"Mr. Nikoui's arrest for emotionally expressing his grief and seeking acknowledgment for his son's sacrifice during the State of the Union — where he called out, "Abbey Gate! Kareem Nikoui! Second Battalion, First Marines!" — highlighted a profound disconnect between the sacrifices made by our service members and the recognition they deserve. Though he interrupted the event, what Mr. Nikoui voiced out loud was a cry for the acknowledgment of the loss endured by the families of the 13 who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country," Issa wrote in a letter Tuesday to Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger.

Issa joins other Republicans who are pushing for the misdemeanor charges against Nikoui to be dropped, noting that Fred Guttenberg, the father of a victim in the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., was escorted from President Trump’s 2020 State of the Union address for shouting but was not arrested.

Nikoui, of Norco in Riverside County, attended the speech as a guest of a Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.). Conflicting stories have emerged as to whether Nikoui got caught up in the moment or entered the House chamber intending to interrupt the speech.

Capitol Police gave Nikoui several warnings to stop shouting before removing him from the chamber at about 10:15 p.m. ET.

"Disrupting the Congress and demonstrating in the Congressional Buildings is illegal," the department said in a statement released that night.

A Capitol Police spokesperson referred further questions to the attorney general for the District of Columbia. A spokesman for the attorney general declined to comment.

While police make arrests, it is up to prosecutors to decide whether to pursue charges. As such, Capitol Police have no control over whether Nikoui is charged.

Nikoui is scheduled to make his next court appearance March 28. He faces a fine of up to $500, though that amount is routinely reduced to $50.

Nikoui's situation has drawn attention because of the circumstances of his protest and the Republican representatives who have called for the charges to be dropped. But the charge is a fairly routine one for protesters who interrupt the ability of Congress to operate.

Protests are so common on Capitol Hill that those expecting to be arrested often hold $50 to pay the fine in their hands while they wait for Capitol Police to arrive.

Six people appeared before the District of Columbia Superior Court on Tuesday alone to face charges of crowding, obstructing or incommoding.

Get the L.A. Times Politics newsletter. Deeply reported insights into legislation, politics and policy from Sacramento, Washington and beyond, in your inbox three times per week.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.