Friday, February 9, 2001

Federal and local charges against the reclusive gunman shot by a uniformed Secret Service officer in front of the south gate of the White House Wednesday likely will be filed today, government sources said.

The most serious of charges lodged against Robert W. Pickett, 47, of Evansville, Ind., sources said, will be one or possibly two counts of assaulting a federal officer, which carries a maximum federal prison term of 10 years for each offense.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman with the District’s U.S. Attorney’s Office, said “at the minimum,” Mr. Pickett would be charged with carrying a pistol without a license, which, under D.C. law, carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

The Secret Service and U.S. Park Police are handling the investigation of the shooting of Mr. Pickett, which occurred around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday outside of the black, wrought-iron gate on the south side of the White House by Executive Avenue and E Street.

Heather Hobson, a spokeswoman with the FBI’s Washington field office, said her agency is helping the two other agencies in their investigation.

Sources said prosecutors are in no rush to press charges against Mr. Pickett, a former mental patient who was fired from the Internal Revenue Service in 1987. They want to determine just how Mr. Pickett may have threatened the Park Police and uniformed Secret Service officers who, at one point, surrounded him as he waved his gun around in the air, pointed it at them, at the White House, and into his mouth.

“[They] are assessing who saw what,” one source said.

The same source added that more charges could be filed if a grand jury investigation returns an indictment.

Mr. Pickett remains in good condition at George Washington University Medical Center after having surgery Thursday evening to remove bullet fragments from his knee. He will be taken straight to the D.C. police central cellblock for processing after he is released from the hospital and once charges are filed.

Marti Harris, a spokeswoman for the hospital in Northwest, declined to say whether Mr. Pickett’s mental state had improved.

On Wednesday, doctors who first examined Mr. Pickett, described his demeanor as “unusual” in that he was not writhing in pain when he was brought to the hospital and had remained quiet. A psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Pickett was performed yesterday morning, a routine procedure for any shooting victim.

Mr. Pickett could be hospitalized for several days, Ms. Harris said.

Federal law enforcement officials are still trying to determine what motivated Mr. Pickett to bring a gun to Washington, then threaten to end his life during a standoff with police.

A source added that the FBI puts more weight on Mr. Pickett’s threat to officers and bystanders than it does his mental state at the time of the incident in deciding whether to recommend charges.

“He could still be suicidal and attack a federal officer,” the source said. It also was reported that police had found Mr. Pickett’s red Ford Probe at the Vienna Metro station parking garage, and that he had written a suicide note blaming the IRS for his troubles, and sent a copy of the note to President Bush.

Mr. Pickett bought his small handgun from a pawn broker in Evansville a year ago after passing an instant background check, according to the Associated Press. Secret Service spokesman Marc Connolly said that even though the agency is continuing to investigate the incident, things at the White House are returning to normal.

“The same security measures that were in place prior to the incident [Wednesday] are in place [Thursday],” Mr. Connolly said. “We have not implemented any additional security measures as a result of this incident.”

The incident once again brought to the forefront the debate about reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to vehicular traffic.

Mr. Connolly said the agency remains opposed to reopening Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Our stance on it hasn’t changed,” Mr. Connolly said, adding that “as with the previous administration, when appropriate and when opportunities present themselves, we are prepared to make briefings [to the president] regarding the status of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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