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Pelosi’s attacker told police he was on a ‘suicide mission,’ court filings allege

David DePape in Berkeley, Calif., in 2013. (Michael Short/San Francisco Chronicle/AP)
7 min

SAN FRANCISCO — The man accused of breaking into House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s home and assaulting her husband with a hammer allegedly told police he was on a “suicide mission” and had a target list of state and federal politicians as part of his effort to combat “lies” coming out of Washington.

David Wayne DePape, 42, was arraigned Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco County Superior Court, where he faced several state charges related to the attack on Paul Pelosi, including attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, elder abuse, residential burglary, false imprisonment and threatening the life of or serious bodily harm to a public official.

Prosecutors pressed for DePape to be held without bond, citing the “extreme public safety risk he poses.” The judge ordered DePape to be held until a bail hearing can be scheduled. DePape was also served an order of protection requiring him to stay at least 150 feet away from the Pelosis and their home.

Through public defender Adam Lipson, DePape entered a plea of not guilty.

Attack on Nancy Pelosi’s husband follows years of GOP demonizing her

Court documents filed Tuesday in the state case offered fresh details about the harrowing incident and more about the suspect’s alleged plans.

DePape allegedly used a hammer to break into the House speaker’s San Francisco home early Friday. Upstairs, he found her 82-year-old husband, Paul, who was sleeping. “Are you Paul Pelosi?” DePape allegedly asked, according to the state filing, as he stood over him holding a large hammer in his right hand and “several white plastic zip ties” in his left hand. “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?”

When Paul Pelosi said she would not be back home for days, DePape allegedly said he would wait and attempted to tie up Pelosi, according to the federal complaint. State prosecutors said that Paul Pelosi tried to access an elevator to use a phone inside to call for help but that DePape allegedly blocked him.

Asked by Paul Pelosi why he wanted to speak to the House speaker, DePape allegedly told him, “Well, she’s number two in line for the presidency, right?”

When Paul Pelosi “agreed,” DePape “responded ‘They are all corrupt’ and ‘We’ve got to take them out,’ ” the filing says.

Read the prosecutors' court filing in the break-in at Nancy Pelosi's home

Trying to escape, Paul Pelosi then asked to use the bathroom, where his phone was charging and he was able to call 911.

According to state prosecutors, Paul Pelosi tried to “defuse the situation” and told the 911 operator that he “did not need police, fire or medical assistance.”

“Trying to be calm and discreet while also trying to help dispatch to understand the situation, Mr. Pelosi then asked for the Capitol Police because they are usually at the house protecting his wife,” the court document reads.

The dispatcher told Paul Pelosi that he was calling the San Francisco police. Pelosi said he understood. “This gentleman just came into the house, and he wants to wait for my wife to come home,” he told the 911 operator, according to the court document.

Paul Pelosi gave the operator his name and address. When the operator asked for the name of the man with him, DePape allegedly responded, “My name’s David.”

DePape allegedly told Paul Pelosi to tell the 911 operator that he was a friend of the Pelosi family. But Pelosi confirmed to the dispatcher that he did not know the man. When the 911 operator asked if Paul Pelosi was okay, he replied, “No, he wants me to get the hell off the phone.”

San Francisco police officers responding to the Pelosis’ home encountered an open door where they saw Paul Pelosi and DePape struggling for control of a hammer. When officers told DePape to drop the hammer, he allegedly wrestled the tool free and attacked Paul Pelosi, striking him on the head and knocking him unconscious.

“Mr. Pelosi remained unresponsive for three minutes, waking up in a pool of his own blood,” the complaint against DePape says. State prosecutors called the attack “near fatal.”

The filing says DePape told officers he “acted alone.” “I am sick of the insane f---ing level of lies coming out of Washington, D.C. I came here to have a little chat with his wife,” DePape allegedly told police.

“I didn’t really want to hurt him, but you know this was a suicide mission. I am not going to stand here and do nothing even if it cost me my life … I will go through him if I have to.”

After his arrest, DePape allegedly admitted that he had “intended to enter the home to take Speaker Nancy Pelosi hostage, and if Speaker Pelosi lied to him, he intended to break her kneecaps,” according to state prosecutors. He said he saw “Ring cameras everywhere” and knew he would be caught on camera.

According to the affidavit filed by an FBI agent, DePape claimed that Nancy Pelosi was the “leader of the pack” of lies told by the Democratic Party and that if he broke her kneecaps “she would then have to be wheeled into Congress, which would show other Members of Congress there were consequences to actions.”

DePape also allegedly claimed he wanted to “use Nancy to lure another individual” to him, according to the federal complaint.

Tuesday’s motion to detain DePape said the man allegedly “named several targets, including a local professor, several prominent state and federal politicians and relatives of those state and federal politicians.”

In court on Tuesday, DePape appeared in a heavily guarded courtroom packed with several rows of reporters. Heavyset with shaggy brown hair that extended to his shoulders, DePape wore an orange sweatsuit that barely fit his large frame, with the shirt draped over his right arm, which was in a sling.

Lipson, a deputy San Francisco public defender who was appointed during the hearing to represent DePape, told reporters after the hearing that his client suffered a dislocated shoulder during his arrest. He said his client had been in the hospital until Tuesday, when he was relocated to the San Francisco County jail, where he is being held.

He declined to say whether that hold was related to mental health issues.

Lipson asked for the bail argument to be held in a separate hearing but told reporters that a federal hold had been placed on his client, meaning DePape would probably not be released anytime soon.

Lipson said he had not yet reviewed police reports from the incident and would withhold further comment on DePape’s defense. “What I will say is that there’s been a lot of speculation regarding Mr. DePape’s vulnerability to misinformation, and that’s certainly something we’re going to look into,” Lipson said.

Another hearing was scheduled for Friday in the case, though a spokesman for the court said DePape had waived his right to attend.

DePape is also facing federal charges related to Friday’s attack, including assault and attempted kidnapping. It was not immediately clear when he would make his first appearance in that case.

The state and federal prosecutions were expected to move forward simultaneously. DePape faces 13 years to life in prison if convicted on the state charges.

On Monday, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins described the incident as a “politically motivated” attack and sought to dispute conspiracy theories that have swirled around the incident, pointedly saying that DePape and Paul Pelosi did not know each other.

Paul Pelosi remains hospitalized at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital following surgery for injuries suffered in the attack, including a fractured skull. In a statement issued Monday evening, Nancy Pelosi said her husband is making “steady progress on what will be a long recovery process.”