Had Secret Service agents acted differently on Sept. 19, the person who scaled the White House fence might have been shot dead on the North Lawn, and Julia A. Pierson might still be in place as the agency's leader .
Instead, Omar J. Gonzalez — the man arrested after allegedly knocking back an officer posted inside the executive mansion's doors and being tackled just outside the Green Room — appeared in an orange jumpsuit before a judge in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Wednesday afternoon.
Gonzalez pleaded not guilty to three charges stemming from the incident that has exposed the agency to intense scrutiny . About 90 minutes later, Pierson resigned. The biggest issue during the 20-minute arraignment was whether Gonzalez, an Iraq war veteran possibly suffering through post-traumatic stress disorder, is mentally fit to stand trial.
"I think the court is wrong on the facts [and] I think the court is wrong on the law," said defense attorney David Bos, who told Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson that he intends to file a motion to stay the government's request to conduct a forensic screening.
Bos found out only an hour earlier that Gonzalez had already been evaluated prior to the trial. He said that based on his interactions with his client, he feels strongly the 42-year-old is competent to stand trial.
Letting a government physiologist perform a screening amounts to an "intervention into the defense camp that we don't believe is warranted," Bos said after leaving the courtroom.
Robinson said Gonzalez's pretrial evaluation did not include an assessment of whether he was fit to stand trial but "additional information now before the court suggests the question should be explored."
Much of what's known about Gonzalez's mental health history is based on a July 19 arrest in Virginia. Federal prosecutors say he was carrying a sawed-off shotgun and a map of Washington that had a circle drawn around the White House.
Virginia State Police alerted the Secret Service. Agents then began an investigation of his history. At the time, Gonzalez granted the Secret Service access to his military medical records. They discovered he was being treated for mental illness.
Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., alleged the Secret Service could have used those facts to stop Gonzalez before the Sept. 19 incident.
"We know he has a history of mental illness," Lynch said Tuesday, while grilling Pierson at a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing. "Then he shows up at the White House in August of 2014. He's got a hatchet in his belt. No red flags, we let him go."
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