Thick bushes no barrier for White House intruder
Washington – — The Secret Service response to an armed intruder who jumped the fence and raced into the White House was complicated by muted alarms and radios, thick bushes on the lawn, unlocked doors and an officer inside who was physically too small to tackle the intruder and fumbled with her equipment, according to the Homeland Security Department review of the case.
A summary of the government’s investigation, released Thursday night, revealed sensational new details about the Sept. 19 break-in at the White House by a disturbed Army veteran carrying a knife.
The government determined that lack of training, poor staffing decisions and communication problems contributed to the embarrassing failure that ultimately led to the resignation of the head of the Secret Service, Julia Pierson. The report disclosed Thursday did not specify any disciplinary actions.
The new report said White House intruder Omar Gonzalez cleared the fence where a trident, or ornamental spike, was missing. An officer in the joint operations center who tried to raise the alarm was unaware his warnings weren’t being broadcast to uniformed officers stationed at the executive mansion.
Some officers at a gate on Pennsylvania Avenue failed to see the fence-jumper because their view was obstructed by a construction project. A Secret Service canine officer parked on the White House driveway was using the speaker function on his personal cellphone without his radio ear piece and a second, tactical radio was stashed away in his locker as Gonzalez made his way into the secure area.
Two officers wrongly assumed Gonzalez wouldn’t be able to get through thick bushes on the property. Another officer posted on the portico outside the wooden White House doors mistakenly assumed the doors were locked.
Gonzalez, 42, was able to run into the building before a female officer seated just inside the building could lock a second set of doors.
That officer tried twice to take Gonzalez down but was unable because she was smaller than the intruder. She reached for a metal baton but mistakenly grabbed a flashlight instead. As she dropped the light and drew her gun, Gonzalez made his way into the East Room before heading back down a hallway on the State Floor deep within the White House.
Gonzalez was eventually tackled by another officer, who was helped by two plainclothes agents just finishing a shift, the report said.
Investigators also said members of an emergency response team didn’t know the layout of the White House and hesitated to go into the mansion after Gonzalez.
Gonzalez has pleaded not guilty in federal court to charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly weapon, which is a federal charge, and two violations of District of Columbia law — carrying a dangerous weapon outside a home or business and unlawful possession of ammunition.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Secret Service reported that Gonzalez was unarmed and apprehended just inside the building. It revealed some information more than a week later about how far into the building Gonzalez reached.
About a month after the incident with Gonzales, a Maryland man was quickly arrested after he climbed over the White House fence and was swiftly apprehended on the North Lawn by uniformed Secret Service agents and their dogs.
The incident came about a month after a previous White House fence jumper carrying a knife sprinted across the same lawn, past armed uniformed agents and entered the mansion
Acting Secret Service Director Joseph Clancy is expected to testify next week at an oversight hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.