US & Canada

White House 'intruder' Omar Gonzalez pleads not guilty

Omar Gonzalez with wife Samantha, date unknown Image copyright AP
Image caption Omar Gonzalez with wife Samantha, in an undated photo

A man accused of scaling the White House fence and running into the building while carrying a knife has pleaded not guilty to charges.

Police say Omar Gonzalez, 42, was tackled inside the White House East Room on 19 September.

Investigators later found more than 800 rounds of ammunition, two hatchets and a machete in his car, police said.

A federal judge ordered a mental competency review for Mr Gonzalez, a move opposed by his legal counsel.

In Washington on Wednesday, Mr Gonzalez pleaded not guilty to entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon, a day after a grand jury indicted him.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mr Gonzalez's lawyer has argued his client is mentally competent to stand trial

Prosecutors say he jumped the main fence around the White House and gained entry inside through an unlocked door, then barrelled past a guard and ran into the East Room before being tackled.

Mr Obama and his family were not at the White House when the intrusion happened, having departed about 10 minutes earlier by helicopter.

Mr Gonzalez, an Iraq War veteran, was previously stopped by Virginia police in July.

Officers found two powerful rifles, four handguns and other firearms and ammunition in his vehicle along with a map marking the White House.

In addition, it has been reported Secret Service agents interviewed Mr Gonzalez twice during the summer but concluded he was not a security threat.

On Wednesday, the court ordered a mental competency review for the suspect, said to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

But Mr Gonzalez's lawyer, David Bos, argued his client was mentally fit to stand trial.

The incident is the latest in a string of security lapses overseen by the Secret Service, tasked with guarding the Obama family.

Litany of lapses

Nov 2009: A couple filming a reality show make it past Secret Service checkpoints into a dinner for visiting Indian prime minister

Nov 2011: A man parks a car directly south of the White House and opens fire with a rifle, striking the residence at least seven times. Secret Service supervisors fail to realise the White House has been struck for four days - until a housekeeper discovers the damage.

April 2012: Eleven Secret Service employees preparing for the president's visit to the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Columbia, bring sex workers back to their hotel.

Nov 2013: A senior supervisor on the president's protective detail starts a row after demanding access to a woman's room at the Hay Adams Hotel overlooking the White House. He leaves behind in the room a bullet from his service weapon.

March 2014: Three agents on the elite counter assault team are sent home from the Netherlands, where they have been preparing for a presidential visit, after one is found passed out drunk in a hallway.

16 September 2014: An armed security contractor with a felony criminal record is allowed to board a lift with the president in a government building in Atlanta.

19 September 2014: Omar Gonzalez, a troubled Iraq War veteran, scales a fence at the White House, evades agents during his dash across the lawn, and enters the White House through an unlocked and unalarmed door.

On 16 September, Mr Obama is said to have rode in an Atlanta lift with an armed security contractor who had assault convictions.

This contravened a protocol that only members of the Secret Service are allowed to carry weapons in the presence of the president.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Secret Service director promised such an incident would "never happen again"

The incident came to light on Tuesday, hours after the boss of the Secret Service was grilled by Congress about the 19 September security breach at the White House.

The director of the US Secret Service, Julia Pierson, took responsibility before a hostile House oversight committee hearing for the "unacceptable" security breach at the presidential residence.

On Wednesday Republican congressman Michael McCaul, chairman of the House of Representatives committee with oversight of the agency, called for a comprehensive review.

"This latest episode adds to the growing list of failures from an agency plagued by operational challenges, cultural problems and reporting difficulties," he said.

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