The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Prosecutors play 911 call, show body-cam footage in Paul Pelosi attack

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and husband Paul Pelosi at the Kennedy Center Honors gala in Washington on Dec. 4. (Sarah Silbiger/Reuters)
6 min

SAN FRANCISCO — Paul Pelosi’s voice was calm and steady as he explained to the 911 dispatcher that a man he didn’t know was in his home, waiting for his wife to return.

“Okay, well, I got a problem, but he thinks everything is good,” the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on speakerphone as the intruder stood feet away with a hammer in one hand and a fistful of zip-tie handcuffs in the other.

Audio of the call, played publicly for the first time in a courtroom here Wednesday, was among the new evidence prosecutors unveiled in the case against David DePape, who is accused of bludgeoning Paul Pelosi with a hammer.

DePape sat next to his attorney in court as prosecutors sought to convince a judge that the case should proceed to a trial. Dozens of spectators, including the Pelosis’ daughter Christine, packed into a small gallery, separated from the well by thick plexiglass, to watch. After the roughly three-hour proceeding, Superior Court Judge Stephen Murphy ruled the case could move forward.

“The most stark evidence of planning and motive in this case were the statements of the defendant himself,” San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Phoebe Maffei said during the hearing.

Prosecutors walked the court through a battery of evidence, including video footage of the attack and a recorded interview with DePape, in which he recounted the conspiracy theories that he said drove him to the Pelosi home, where he said he wanted to take the speaker hostage as punishment for Democratic “lies” and “crimes.”

DePape told investigators that his other targets included California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), President Biden’s son Hunter Biden, actor Tom Hanks and feminist author and professor Gayle Rubin.

“It’s an endless f---ing crime spree,” DePape said in an interview with Sgt. Carla Hurley of the San Francisco police shortly after the assault.

Asked why he attacked Pelosi, DePape replied, “I told him I’m not going to surrender, I’m here for the fight,” according to the recording.

Video footage from the body cameras worn by the responding police officers captured the attack and the seconds leading up to it, from the moment the door to Pelosi’s house opened until officers detained DePape.

In the shaky footage, the two men can be seen standing in the doorway, each with a hand on the hammer.

“Drop the hammer,” one officer says.

DePape can be heard responding, “Um, nope,” before lunging at Pelosi.

Pelosi, 82, sustained a skull fracture and serious injuries to his right arm and hands, confining him to a hospital for nearly a week while he underwent surgery and recovered. Prosecutors said the beating was “near fatal.”

San Francisco police patrolman Kyle Cagney, one of the two responding officers, recounted the chaotic scene in testimony Wednesday, describing how it unfolded in a matter of seconds and ended with Pelosi motionless on the floor.

“Mr. Pelosi was laying facedown on the ground, a pool of blood around his head,” Cagney said.

Pelosi made his first public appearance more than a month later, in early December, accompanying his wife to the Kennedy Center Honors in D.C. He wore a black fedora over his head wound and a glove on one hand. He was met with a standing ovation from the star-studded audience.

The assault came during a period of rising violence and vicious rhetoric aimed at leaders, lawmakers and government officials. Nancy Pelosi has for years been the target of right-wing demonization — vilification that culminated around 2 a.m. on Oct. 28, when prosecutors say DePape broke into the Pelosis’ home. “Where’s Nancy? Where’s Nancy?” DePape asked, according to the court filing, echoing the chants of some in the mob of rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The House speaker, in Washington ahead of the midterm elections, was not home.

DePape, whose descent into extremism left a messy public trail, later told investigators that he intended to take the House speaker hostage and that he viewed her as “the ‘leader of the pack’ of lies told by the Democratic Party,” according to a separate affidavit filed by an FBI agent. DePape said he planned to break Nancy Pelosi’s kneecaps so that “she would then have to be wheeled into Congress,” sending a message to other members of Congress, the document said.

The affidavit was filed in federal authorities’ case against DePape, as part of the multi-jurisdictional effort to prosecute the attack. The federal charges against him include attempting to kidnap a federal official and assaulting an immediate relative of a federal official. DePape has pleaded not guilty in the state and federal cases, which are expected to proceed simultaneously. If convicted of the state charges, DePape will face 13 years to life in prison.

After DePape’s arraignment last month, his public defender, Adam Lipson, told reporters 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 declined to elaborate on a defense strategy after the Wednesday hearing, telling a group of reporters that “Mr. DePape is going to be fighting this case in court, not the hallways.”

DePape, a Canadian citizen who immigration officials say was in the United States illegally, is being held in the San Francisco County jail without bond. Lipson said a federal hold had been placed on DePape, which means his client probably will not be released anytime soon.

The San Francisco district attorney’s office said Wednesday marked “a key milestone,” with prosecutors easily clearing the first hurdle to the case proceeding, successfully persuading Murphy, the judge, that they have enough evidence that DePape committed the crimes he was charged with. The threshold is a lower bar than determining guilt or innocence, and Murphy said he had seen enough to green-light a trial on all six counts.

DePape’s next appearance in the state case was set for Dec. 28. Meanwhile, San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins said her office would weigh whether it would offer DePape a plea deal. In a brief news conference after the hearing, Jenkins said DePape “clearly had a plan and acted on that plan.”

She said that the case demonstrates “the toxic political environment that we are living in at this time” and that she hopes the prosecution “sends a clear message to the country that things have gone too far and that we must tone down our rhetoric.”

In her most detailed comments since the episode, Nancy Pelosi said last month that she has been racked by trauma and something akin to survivor’s guilt.

“It’s so sad for our country,” she said.

Holly Bailey contributed to this report.