WASHINGTON (AP) — Following an embarrassing security breach at the White House, one of the most closely protected buildings in the world, the Secret Service is said to be considering establishing new checkpoints to screen tourists in public areas near the presidential mansion.
Meanwhile, the man accused of scaling a security fence and getting into the president’s home carrying a knife is scheduled to have his initial appearance Monday in federal court.
Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, of Copperas Cove, Texas, is facing charges of unlawfully entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. The Army says Gonzalez served from 1997 until his discharge in 2003, and again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired due to disability.
The Secret Service tightened its guard outside the White House after Friday’s security breach. Gonzalez is accused of scaling the White House perimeter fence, sprinting across the lawn and entering the building before agents could stop him.
President Barack Obama and his family were away at the time. Obama says he still has confidence in the troubled agency’s ability to protect him and his family.
Secret Service Director Julia Pierson has ordered increased surveillance and more officer patrols, and has begun an investigation into what went wrong.
The Secret Service is conducting preliminary discussions about setting up security screening checkpoints near public areas around the White House, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press on Sunday. The official insisted on anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations by name. The official said the measures had been discussed previously, but the talks have taken on added urgency.
The breach triggered a rare evacuation of much of the White House. Secret Service agents drew their weapons as they hurried White House staffers and journalists out of the West Wing through a side door.
Officials first said the fact that Gonzalez appeared to be unarmed may have been a factor in why agents at the scene didn’t shoot or have their dogs pursue him before he made it inside. But a criminal complaint issued late Friday revealed Gonzalez had a small folding knife with a 3½-inch serrated blade with him at the time of his arrest.
Jerry Murphy, whose mother was married to Gonzalez for several years, said Gonzalez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and needs treatment, not to be treated like a criminal. He said Gonzalez had been driving around the country and living out of his truck for the past couple of years, and that he always carries his knife. He said he doesn’t believe Gonzalez intended to hurt anyone.
Samantha Bell, Gonzalez’s ex-wife, said she and Gonzalez married in 2006 and lived together in Copperas Cove, near Fort Hood, until she split up with him in 2010 because of his worsening mental condition. After his second tour in Iraq, Gonzalez began carrying a .45 on his hip at all times and kept three or four rifles and shotguns behind the doors in their home, said Bell, who remarried and now lives in southern Indiana.
Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez’s arrest, a second man was taken into custody after he drove up to a White House gate and refused to leave, Secret Service spokesman Ed Donovan said, prompting bomb technicians in full gear to search the vehicle as agents briefly shut down nearby streets.
On Sunday, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary identified the man as Kevin Carr, 19, of Shamong, N.J.
There were no indications the two incidents were connected. But they only intensified the scrutiny of the Secret Service, which is struggling to rehabilitate its image following a series of allegations of misconduct by agents in recent years, including agents on Obama’s detail.
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman in Washington and Julie Pace in New York contributed to this report.