Behind the Breaches: 22 Arrested at White House, US Capitol Since 2014 - NBC Southern California
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Behind the Breaches: 22 Arrested at White House, US Capitol Since 2014

The I-Team’s review reveals the legal system is struggling to prevent the risk of repeat offenders

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    At least 22 people have been arrested and prosecuted for breaching security at the White House or U.S. Capitol since the beginning of 2014, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team. Scott MacFarlane reports. (Published Thursday, July 27, 2017)

    At least 22 people have been arrested and prosecuted for breaching security at the White House or U.S. Capitol since the beginning of 2014, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team. The cases include a fast-rising number of White House fence jumpers and people deliberately violating security perimeters on Capitol grounds.

    The I-Team’s review reveals the legal system is struggling to prevent the risk of repeat offenders. Almost all of those arrested since 2014 are free from custody, many are undergoing mental health or competency screenings, several have violated court orders to stay away from government buildings, and at least two of them are missing and being sought by law enforcement.

    White House and U.S. Capitol Security Breaches Since 2014:

    Federal law enforcement agencies do not release official counts or lists of arrests at the White House or Capitol, so the I-Team scoured four years of federal court records to compile an exhaustive list of cases since 2014, some of which were not publicized by authorities. An overwhelming majority of the cases involved men and women who reside far from the metropolitan Washington, D.C., region and made long trips to commit the breaches.

    According to former U.S. Secret Service employees, the I-Team’s findings raise concern fence jumpers are spawning copycats and increasing the risk to government officials and tourists who gather along White House and U.S. Capitol grounds.

    Former agent Robert Caltabiano said an incendiary political culture and social media are fueling anger and protest.

    “Unfortunately, I think we’re going to see more of this,” Caltabiano said. “The vitriol, the fighting of people just going to events.”

    “If you look at how people view Congress and the president, I think there’s the angst of people are so fed up with certain things,” he said.

    Gunshots

    At least two of the incidents since 2014 resulted in gunfire from law enforcement, increasing the risk to tourists, police and workers nearby. Jesse Olivieri of Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to a federal charge five months after he was arrested for pulling a semiautomatic gun near U.S. Secret Service outside the south entrance of the White House. Agents fired and struck Olivieri, who was wounded and served less than five months in jail.

    In a March 2016 incident, police arrested Larry Dawson for brandishing an item appearing to be a gun inside the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center. U.S. Capitol Police opened fire at Douglas, who was wounded and later pleaded guilty to a charge of assaulting or impeding officers. Visitors, including children, fled and sheltered on Capitol grounds during the gunfire, according to court records.

    Repeat Offenders

    Several people arrested for breaches since 2014 were repeat offenders, who had violated stay away orders from the court by approaching White House grounds.

    Marci Wahl of the state of Washington is facing criminal charges, accused of trying to jump the White House fence three times in one week in March.

    Alicia Keppler of South Carolina pleaded guilty to a charge of entering restricted grounds in mid-July. According to the I-Team review of her case, prosecutors accused Keppler of attempting to breach White House security on two consecutive Fourth of July holidays and during the annual White House Easter Egg Roll.

    Kenneth Kohl, deputy chief of the national security section for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, said federal prosecutors vigorously prosecute breaches.

    “We take the cases very seriously,” Kohl said. “If someone jumps the White House fence or attempts to jump the White House fence, were going to prosecute that case."

    Out-of-Towners

    At least 17 of the 22 cases involved people who lived in states outside the mid-Atlantic.

    Jonathan Tran of California traveled across the country before scaling the White House fence. According to court filings, Tran remained undetected on the grounds for several minutes while carrying a backpack. Secret Service officers found and arrested Tran on the South Lawn. He pleaded guilty to a federal charge in July and declined to answer when the I-Team asked him why he breached security. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in September and is free from custody pending the sentencing hearing.

    Joseph Caputo of Connecticut traveled to D.C. to jump the White House fence on Thanksgiving Day 2015. He did so wrapped in a U.S. flag while carrying a binder and a rewritten version of the U.S. Constitution, according to his attorneys and court filings. Caputo pleaded guilty to a federal charge in January and avoided prison time, receiving a sentence of supervised parole.

    “I had my own intentions,” Caputo told the I-Team in January. “I’ll speak about them at a later date. The main point was the binder.”

    Fugitives

    The I-Team review shows at least two of the 22 people arrested for breaches are missing and being pursued by authorities.

    A D.C. Superior Court judge issued a warrant for Antonio Pierorazio of Pennsylvania, who failed to show for a court hearing in his case. U.S. Capitol Police arrested Pierorazio in July 2015 for ramming his vehicle into a barricade on the south side of the U.S. Capitol complex. A judge had ordered mental health screenings for Pierorazio. According to reports, Pierorazio claimed the FBI had implanted chips in him before the incident.

    Jose Fuertes is also a fugitive, according to the I-Team review of court filings. U.S. Secret Service arrested Fuertes in March 2016 for jumping a White House bike rack-style security barrier. The I-Team review showed Fuertes failed to show for an April 2016 hearing. A judge issued a warrant for his arrest.

    D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department is the agency assigned to find the two men. Neither has been located or arrested.

    “Our Criminal Apprehension Unit is committed to ensuring these individuals, and any individuals who have outstanding warrants are apprehended so they can answer to the charges that have been brought against them,” a spokeswoman said.

    Mental Health

    Judges ordered mental health screenings or counseling in 15 of the 22 security breach cases, including several still pending in D.C. federal court. The screenings and mental health care has stalled some of the criminal proceedings, the I-Team found.

    Sean Keoughan of Roanoke, Virginia, is still waiting to proceed with his criminal case after a March 2017 arrest by U.S. Secret Service. Keoughan is charged with a federal crime after being accused of driving a stolen truck to a White House checkpoint, claiming to have a bomb in the trunk. He is committed to the custody of the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center for mental evaluations.

    Jean-Paul Gamarra is also being held at the New York Metropolitan Correctional Center after his arrest by U.S. Secret Service. The I-Team’s review of court records shows the feds have accused Gamarra of having three run-ins with U.S. Secret Service at the White House. He was arrested in March for leaving a suspicious package with a threatening message by a security fence. He was ordered to return for further mental health care in mid-July.

    Hearings are also stalled for Wahl, the Washington state woman accused of making three fence jumping attempts in one week in March.

    Jessica Ford of Tennessee is scheduled for a hearing in September. Prosecutors said Ford attempted to scale the fence in May but also violated an order from the court to stay away from the White House in early July. Ford pleaded not guilty and has been ordered to undergo a doctor’s review.

    Caltabiano said U.S. Secret Service must prepare for encounters with the mentally ill when guarding the White House. He said mental health concerns raise the risk to officers and the trespassers themselves, because communication is often challenging.

    “When the individual is over the fence and they’re running on the grounds of the White House, you don’t have time to decipher whether they’re mentally ill or they have ill intentions of harming the president,” Caltabiano said.