- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When Omar Gonzalez leaped over the White House fence and made it deep into the executive mansion last month, he ignited a fierce debate over the U.S. Secret Service’s policies and whether he should have been shot as a potential threat to President Obama.

Secret Service officers finally subdued him in the White House’s Green Room, and found him carrying a knife — details that were not disclosed to the press in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 19 intrusion.

Testifying to Congress on Tuesday, agency Director Julia Pierson said officers didn’t follow protocols, and said she’s ordered an internal investigation, but lawmakers didn’t seem assured the agency will draw the right conclusions about what agents and officers should be told about the use of deadly force.

“I want it to be crystal clear. You make a run and a dash at the White House, we’re going to take you down. I want overwhelming force,” said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, Utah Republican.

Others weren’t so sure they wanted such force to be officers’ immediate reaction to someone getting over the White House fence and advancing toward the mansion.

“The idea that we’re going to have a shootout on the White House grounds seems to me a last resort, not a first resort,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, Virginia Democrat. “And I’m not sure members of Congress ought to be in the business of actually spelling out Secret Service protocols for you. I’m not sure that’s our competence.”

The Sept. 19 intrusion has highlighted the difficulties of policing the White House, which has become a heavily guarded and partially fortified complex that is also a major tourist attraction in the middle of a bustling city.

But as fortified as the building is, the main door to the mansion was unlocked and there was no guard at the entrance, officials have acknowledged.

Mr. Gonzalez, whom police have identified as the intruder, jumped the fence and sprinted the 70 yards to the entrance, overpowering an officer inside the building who was trying to lock the door. They struggled throughout much of the main floor of the mansion before a second officer was able to help, finally subduing the intruder.

Ms. Pierson said an automatic locking mechanism is now in place for the main entrance.

Mr. Gonzalez was indicted Tuesday on three charges — a federal count of entering a restricted building while carrying a deadly weapon, and two District of Columbia charges, carrying a dangerous weapon outside a home and unlawful possession of ammunition. He is set to appear in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson.

In her testimony Tuesday, Ms. Pierson said there have been six fence-jumping incidents so far this year alone, and 16 over the last five years. And as of this week, her agency was overseeing 327 investigations into individuals who might pose a potential threat to the president.

“I take full responsibility,” Ms. Pierson told the House oversight committee of the Sept. 19 intrusion, which occurred when Mr. Obama and his family were not in the mansion. “What happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again.”

She was unable to say why the service initially told reporters Mr. Gonzalez was unarmed — he was in possession of a folded knife — and why they at first said he was apprehended in the entryway.

The debate over lethal force has raged since.

Ralph Basham, former director of the Secret Service, told the oversight committee that if Mr. Gonzalez had been shot, “we could easily be sitting here today discussing why an Iraq veteran, possibly suffering through post-traumatic stress disorder, armed with only a pocket knife, was shot dead on the North Lawn when the president and first family were not on the property.”

Maria Haberfeld, chairwoman of the department of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College in New York, said officers have to be allowed to make final judgments, but she said the facts she’s seen about the White House incident suggest the officers “would have been perfectly justified if they had used deadly force.”

She said it’s possible the officers reacted more slowly because of an incident last year in which a women rammed the vehicle barriers near the White House then sped over to the Capitol, where she was eventually shot and killed by police.

Some lawmakers have criticized police for shooting the woman, who was unarmed and had a baby girl in the back seat of the car.

“This is a similar situation here — they’re really slowing down because they don’t know who they’re dealing with,” Ms. Haberfeld said.

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