Intruder breaches White House grounds, arrested near residence entrance

Posted at 2:08 PM, Mar 11, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-12 09:01:21-04

A man carrying a backpack with mace and a letter for President Donald Trump was arrested Friday night after he breached security at the White House complex and was discovered by a Secret Service officer near the south entrance to the executive residence, officials said.

The incident happened just before midnight while the President was at the White House.

The suspect, identified in court records as Jonathan T. Tran, 26, of California, told the agency’s officers that he was there to see the President.

“No, I am a friend of the President. I have an appointment,” Tran said when approached by an officer, according to a report released Saturday by the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

Asked how he got there, Tran told officers: “I jumped the fence.”

The arresting officers found two cans of mace and a passport on Tran, who appeared in D.C. Superior Court shortly before 5 p.m. dressed in a dark blue hoodie and khakis. He spoke only briefly, offering a faint “yes” when told his rights. He faces a charge of unlawful entry and will be arraigned in federal court on Monday.

The judge said there was probable cause to hold Tran because he could pose a flight risk and danger to the community.

The police report, obtained by CNN, offers a description of the incident. White House security footage showed Tran jumping the fence at the northwest courtyard of the Treasury Building, which is adjacent to the White House, the report said. He was not detected, however, until approached by a uniformed Secret Service officer.

At one point, Tran hid behind a White House pillar before proceeding to the south portico entrance, according to a complaint filed in US District Court.

Secret Service officer Wayne Azevedo said in the complaint that during a search after the arrest, “two cans of mace were found on Tran, including one his jacket pocket. Tran was also carrying among other things, a United States passport, an Apple laptop computer, a book written by President Trump, and a letter he had written to President Trump.” Azevedo also said “in the letter, Tran mentioned Russian hackers and said he had information of relevance. Tran alleged that he had been followed, and his ‘phone and email communications (had been) read by third parties,’ and that he had ‘been called schizophrenic.'”

After the incident, the White House was placed under security condition “orange,” one of the highest levels of security for the Secret Service, an agency source said.

The President was alerted about the intrusion late Friday night, an administration official said. The suspect was arrested by the Secret Service “without further incident,” the Secret Service said in its statement.

Trump said Saturday that the suspect was disturbed, calling the situation “sad” and saying he appreciates the work of the Secret Service.

“The service did a fantastic job,” the President said to reporters during a lunch meeting with Cabinet officials at the Trump National Golf Club in Potomac Falls, Virginia. “It was a troubled person. It was very sad.”

A Secret Service source said the backpack Tran carried was x-rayed before bomb technicians removed it from the White House grounds for further evaluation.

The backpack was found to be free of any hazardous materials, the Secret Service said in its statement. But that brief statement released by a spokesman Saturday morning seemed to downplay the incident and contained very few of the details in the police reports and court records, including how close the suspect came to the residence, his intention to see the President and the mace he was carrying.

A special Secret Service intelligence team interviewed Tran, who was taken into custody by Washington police. The suspect has no criminal history and no previous history involving the Secret Service, that agency said.

A Secret Service emergency response team searched the entire White House grounds with K-9 dogs, including the first lady’s garden, which is near the south entrance of the residence. Extensive searches were also conducted on East Executive Avenue and East Wing roadway.

“Nothing of concern to security operations was found,” the Secret Service said in its statement.

The suspect’s 19-year-old younger brother, Brian, from Milpitas, California, said Tran was “troubled” after being laid off from his job at an electrical engineering company.

Tran had been “living in his car and eating junk food,” his brother said. Tran graduated from San Jose State University with an electrical engineering degree and had been “stressed out from the job,” his brother said.

A Secret Service agent called Tran’s family’s home Friday night to inform them of the fence-jumping incident, his brother said, adding that his mother is “very troubled” about the matter.

Tran has been “a very good brother to me,” said the brother, a mechanical engineering major at San Jose State University.

The investigation into the security breach continued Saturday as the Secret Service tried to determine how Tran gained entrance to the highly fortified White House complex without being detected, officials said. It is the first known major security incident at the White House since Trump became president two months ago.

Jonathan Wackrow, a former Secret Service agent, said Saturday on “CNN Newsroom” that the breach has the potential to be “catastrophic.”

“This is really troubling,” said Wackrow, a CNN law enforcement analyst. “If someone came over the northwest fence of the Treasury complex, what that indicates is they didn’t go over just one fence, they went over multiple fences. This has the potential to be a catastrophic breach of the White House complex. This is really disturbing, just the amount of real estate that this intruder was able to gain or bypass on the complex.”

“So the Secret Service has to really take a very hard look very quickly as to why weren’t other defense measures alerted,” Wackrow said.

Asked Saturday if the Secret Service handled the situation correctly, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, the “Secret Service did a phenomenal job and they continue to provide phenomenal protection to the President and the first family, and the President was very appreciative of their efforts.”

Spicer added that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly “was kept aware of the situation the entire time.”

There have been numerous instances of people trespassing on the White House grounds over the last several years.

In one notable instance in 2014, 42-year-old Omar Gonzales, of Copperas Cove, Texas, made it through the north portico doors with a three-and-a-half-inch folding knife in his pants pocket, according to the Secret Service. Gonzalez was apprehended just after making it inside the doors, the Secret Service said. The first family was not at the White House at the time.

In another, the Secret Service apprehended Joseph Caputo, of Stamford, Connecticut, on the North Lawn after he scaled the fence wearing an American flag-like cape while the first family was inside the residence celebrating Thanksgiving in 2015.

Other incidents of trespassing include:

A man tossed a backpack over the north fence in April 2016 before jumping over himself, where he was arrested.

In April 2015, Jerome R. Hunt, of Hayward, California, climbed the fence on the south side of the White House complex while carrying a suspicious package, later deemed harmless, and was cornered by security dogs.

Dominic Adesanya, 23, of Bel Air, Maryland, barely made it onto the lawn in October 2014 before he was subdued as he fought off two police dogs, the Secret Service said. Adesanya, who suffers from mental health problems, had been arrested in a previous White House breach, his father said.

In April 2014, a man wearing a hat of the Pokemon character Pikachu made it over the White House fence and onto the north lawn, where he was apprehended, the New York Daily News reported.