Man Held in White House Scare
Thursday, March 23, 2006
A French citizen was arrested on disorderly conduct charges yesterday after he threw a bundle of papers over a gate of the White House, forcing police to call in the bomb squad, seal the area and close off Lafayette Square, authorities said.
The bundle turned out to contain nothing dangerous, but it took about an hour before authorities issued an all-clear.
The incident marked the second time that Cyrille Y. Morotte, 36, had caused trouble at the White House, authorities said. Morotte was taken into custody and deported after throwing another item over the White House fence in June 2004, authorities said. It was not clear yesterday how Morotte got back into the United States.
He was being held last night and probably will appear at a hearing in D.C. Superior Court today.
The episode began about 11 a.m., just after President Bush left the South Lawn of the White House grounds by helicopter for an event in Wheeling, W.Va.
Authorities said that Morotte threw the bundle of papers and plastic, which was held together by rubber bands, over the fence near the busy northwest gate on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. He was quickly arrested by Secret Service officers, who summoned the bomb squad to examine the package.
Police then shut down that area of the White House. They hustled some television reporters and camera crews, who typically deliver their reports from regular positions near the northwest gate, into the White House press room.
Authorities also closed Pennsylvania Avenue NW and Lafayette Square to pedestrians. The area draws a great deal of pedestrian traffic, especially in spring, when many school groups make trips to Washington.
The bomb squad used a robot to examine the bundle and determined about noon that it did not pose a threat. Secret Service spokesman Tom Mazur said that "normal protocols" were followed.
"We would be remiss if we didn't take these situations seriously," Mazur said.
It was not known yesterday why Morotte tossed the package over the fence. Authorities said he threw a backpack or other object over the fence in 2004. He was not charged with a crime in that incident but was deported afterward, authorities said.
Federal immigration officials said they have placed a detainer on Morotte to ensure that he is turned over to them upon completion of any criminal proceedings. They said their investigation is continuing.
The White House has often attracted protesters and others who have tried to jump or throw objects over the fence. Mazur said the Secret Service did not have statistics on such incidents, adding that they were "not uncommon."
In November 2004, a Falls Church man who had been aiding the government in a terrorism investigation set himself on fire outside the northwest gate. A year later, a 48-year-old homeless man stabbed three tourists in Lafayette Square, causing minor injuries.
Staff writer Daniela Deane contributed to this report.