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White House Intruder Prompts Evacuation, Renewed Secret Service Scrutiny

A man jumped the fence and made it through the front doors of the residence before he was tackled by security personnel.

by Liz Fields
Sep 20 2014, 4:55pm

Photo via Flickr

The White House was evacuated and the Secret Service embarrassed after an intruder scaled a fence, scrambled across the lawn, and made it inside the front door before being apprehended by security personnel.

Shaky footage shot from the front lines purportedly shows the security breach, which occurred shortly after 7pm Friday evening and sent the official presidential residence into a scramble.

The incident has raised questions about how the man, clad in jeans and a t-shirt, was allowed to make it all the way inside the columned entrance of the North Portico, which overlooks Pennsylvania Avenue, before being tacked by security personnel.

It has also fostered renewed scrutiny of a supposedly elite government agency that has suffered several severe dents to its reputation in recent years.

Footage shows the White House front lawn just after an intruder jumped the fence Friday.

The House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, told the Associated Press the incident was "totally unacceptable," and said secret service agents are "failing to do their job."

"These are good men and women, but the Secret Service leadership has a lot of questions to answer," Chaffetz said. "Was the door open?"

The intruder, identified as Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, was apparently unarmed as he is seen in the video bolting across the grounds. Secret Service officers yell at passers by outside the fence to clear out, while the person shooting the footage is heard asking "What's going on?"

Gonzalez was charged with unlawful entry and was later taken to hospital after complaining of chest pains.

On Saturday morning, agents were seen carefully scouring the grounds for any items left behind, the Associated Press reported. The Secret Service confirmed that personnel were conducting activity related to the prior evening's incident.

Later on Saturday afternoon, another incident occurred in front of the White House. A man in a vehicle attempted to breach a barricaded entryway and was arrested by Secret Service agents.

While numerous breaches of the White House perimeter have occurred before, trespassers have rarely made it farther than the other side of the fence before being apprehended. An evacuation is also uncommon in these situations, where the typical response is usually to put the complex on lockdown until the security threat is resolved.

"This situation was a little different than other incidents we have at the White House," Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said of the trespasser who sprinted across the lawn Friday. "There will be a thorough investigation into the incident."

Last week, a similar incident occurring on the anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks was dealt with swiftly by officers, who deployed dogs and drew their guns before taking a man into custody.

In recent years, the Secret Service's once-sterling reputation has been tarnished by a series of scandals, including a 2012 incident where agents were allegedly involved with prostitutes ahead of the President's trip to Colombia.

Another incident related to sexual misconduct occurred in 2013, and an episode in March of this year involving a drunk agent in the Netherlands prompted a structural and cultural reshuffling of the agency. President Barack Obama appointed the first female director of the agency last year.

A report by the inspector general late last year indicated the Secret Service was not suffering from widespread misconduct.

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields

Photo via Flickr