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Report: Secret Service officer busy chatting on phone when man jumped WH fence

A Secret Service officer with an attack dog was sitting in a van talking on his personal cellphone when a man jumped the White House fence in September, according to a government review.

The high-profile embarrassment for the agency, which ended only after the jumper was apprehended well inside the White House, was part of a string of Secret Service controversies that led to the resignation of Director Julia Pierson.

A Department of Homeland Security review, posted online by congressional Democrats on the Homeland Security Committee, concluded that the officer, charged with handling an attack dog that could have stopped the fence jumper, did not immediately notice someone had jumped the fence, the newspaper reports. He was sitting in a van talking on his personal phone and did not have his radio earpiece in, according to the report.

{mosads}By the time the officer reacted, it was too late for the dog to “lock on” to Omar Gonzalez, the man charged in the incident, and the dog “may not have seen him at all,” the DHS review concluded.

Investigators also found that the Secret Service’s alarms and radios did not work properly.

It is likely to strengthen calls in Congress for reform at the agency. A larger DHS review of the Secret Service is also ongoing. 

On Aug. 25, Gonzalez was stopped by Secret Service agents near the White House with a hatchet underneath his clothes. He was released when officers determined he was not breaking D.C. law.  

On Sept. 19, the day of the fence jumping incident, three Secret Service agents who recognized Gonzalez from the hatchet episode saw him near the White House but did not stop him or notify command because he was not showing “unusual behavior” according to the report.  

Gonzalez climbed over where an ornamental spike was missing from the fence, the report says. Two officers ran toward Gonzalez after he jumped the fence with their guns pointed at him, but did not fire because they believed he was not armed. It was later discovered he had a knife.  

The report says that at several instances officers found radio traffic to be unintelligible.  

An officer on the White House’s north portico saw the closed front doors and thought they were locked, cornering Gonzalez, but they actually were unlocked. Gonzalez knocked over an officer inside trying to lock the doors.  

A female officer tried twice to bring Gonzalez down physically, but failed “because of the size disparity between the two” according to the report.  

Gonzalez entered the East Room before turning back, and being tackled by an on-duty officer as well as two off-duty officers leaving a shift.  

Officers outside did not immediately enter the building and were “unfamiliar with the layout of the White House” according to the review. 

The report cites a combination of “lack of radio discipline” and “aging infrastructure” for the communications failures.  

It finds miscommunication between headquarters and officers in the field in the weeks before the fence jumping, when Gonzalez was stopped outside the White House.  

It finds “the level of training of USSS Uniformed Division Officers likely contributed to Gonzalez’s ability to breach the White House interior.” 

Due to staffing shortages, the Secret Service has not “conducted regular training for Uniformed Division officers,” the DHS report says.

The Secret Service released a statement responding to the report.

“Based on these initial findings the Secret Service has implemented, or is in the process of implementing, a series of training, staffing, communication, tactical and intelligence gathering enhancements,” the statement.said. 

“The entire Secret Service workforce is dedicated to ensuring that we provide the highest level of protection to the people and facilities we protect. We must take this opportunity to make any necessary changes and improvements related to carrying out our protective mission to regain the trust of the American people.”

 

Updated at 6:51 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to reflect additonal information.

 

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