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Secret Service probes alleged noose incident

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  • NEW: The Secret Service says it immediately launched a fact-finding investigation
  • Black Secret Service officer found possible noose at a training facility
  • White officer admits leaving rope, but motivation is unclear
  • Formal investigation into incident delayed for eight days
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From Jim Spellman and Jeanne Meserve
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Secret Service is investigating whether the racially charged symbol of a noose was displayed in its Maryland training facility.

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The Secret Service is investigating whether a noose was displayed at this training facility in Maryland.

An instructor "observed a rope tied in a loop, which was interpreted as a noose, in one of the training buildings" at the James J. Rowley Training Center in Beltsville, Maryland, on April 16, the Secret Service said.

The instructor is a 38-year-old African-American member of the Secret Service's Uniformed Division.

A white agent admits leaving it, but it is unclear if the rope was intended to be a noose or was tied in a loop for some other reason. The white agent is on administrative leave while the Service's Office of Professional Responsibility investigates.

The rope was found tied to a building where agents do tactical training. In a statement to CNN, the Secret Service said "There has been no indication of racial intent on the part of the employee who has claimed responsibility."

The officer who found the rope reported the incident to management at the site later the same day, but it wasn't until eight days later that the Office of Professional Responsibility, the service's internal affairs branch, was brought in to do a formal investigation.

The Secret Service, however, said Friday that a fact-finding investigation was launched immediately after the rope was found. A fact-finding mission is required before the Office of Professional Responsibility can launch a formal investigation, the service said.

The Secret Service said it also notified all the appropriate parties about the investigation in a timely fashion.

On April 24, the day the Office of Professional Responsibility investigation was launched, the white agent was placed on paid administrative leave and later that same day the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan, was informed and began calling congressional leaders to inform them of the incident, according to congressional sources

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who oversees the Secret Service, declined to comment on the case because it is still being investigated, but expressed confidence in the agency. Video Watch Sec. Chertoff stand by the Secret Service »

"I haven't seen a problem, and I know that Director Sullivan and the leadership there is strongly committed to making sure it's an equal opportunity workforce," Chertoff said. "I back him 100 percent in making sure that if there are people who are doing something inappropriate, they ought to be sanctioned and they ought to be sanctioned with as much of a tough hand as we can possibly bring to the issue."

"We ought not to tolerate any kind of race or religious or gender discrimination in the Secret Service," he said.

The Secret Service has been locked in an eight-year-old racial discrimination lawsuit brought by 10 current and former African-American agents.

The suit says black agents were systematically denied promotions and career opportunities. The Secret Service has been sanctioned by the court three times for not providing documents.

Later in May, the judge has the option of sanctioning the organization a fourth time if it continues to hold back documents.

The lead plaintiff in the discrimination case, Special Agent Reginald Moore, said he is troubled by the incident and the eight days that elapsed between the incident and the investigation.

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"I believe that the powers that be hoped that the story would just go away, that nobody would pay attention to it," he said. "If a noose were found at a synagogue in downtown [Washington] D.C., the local PD would respond and then the FBI would respond shortly thereafter. It wouldn't take a week for the proper authorities to come in and handle the situation."

In a phone conversation with CNN, the officer who found the rope declined to comment, citing Secret Service policies. Calls to the home of the agent who tied the rope were not returned. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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