The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Calif. man carrying Mace arrested on White House grounds after scaling fence

President Trump praised the Secret Service for apprehending a man who got onto the White House grounds after climbing a fence. (Video: The Washington Post)

A California man carrying two cans of Mace and a letter to President Trump about “Russian hackers” scaled a White House fence Friday night and neared an entrance to the presidential mansion before he was arrested, according to a court document.

The suspect — identified as Jonathan Tuan-Anh Tran, 26 — made it all the way to the exterior of the White House, which he walked alongside, and then hid behind a pillar before he was spotted and apprehended near the South Portico entrance.

The court document released Saturday evening omits any reference to alarms sounding and suggests that the first realization of an intruder was when a uniformed agent saw the suspect, up to 200 yards from where he entered. The U.S. Secret Service declined to answer questions about how the man penetrated so deep onto the White House grounds, citing an ongoing investigation.

In a brief statement earlier Saturday, the agency said the suspect had breached the outer perimeter.

A D.C. Superior Court judge ordered Tran detained through the weekend. He was charged with entering restricted grounds while carrying a dangerous weapon. Tran is expected to appear in federal court Monday. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted. The charges were upgraded from his initial arrest for unlawful entry.

Tran’s court-appointed attorney, Gregg D. Baron, asked that his client be released. But Judge Jennifer DiToro ruled him a flight and safety risk. Tran appeared wearing a blue zip-up sweatshirt, khaki jeans, a white T-shirt and glasses. He made no public statement.

A federal law enforcement official said Tran has no prior criminal record and had no previous history with the Secret Service. The official spoke on the condition of not being named to discuss information about the suspect that is not usually made public by police. Tran is from Milpitas, just outside San Jose.

Tran told a Secret Service officer that he has “been called schizophrenic,” according to the criminal complaint. He had the Mace in a jacket pocket and a book bag with a book on Trump, a U.S. passport and an Apple laptop, the complaint says.

On the computer, the Secret Service said it found a letter addressed to Trump discussing Russian hackers and that he had “information of relevance.” Tran alleged in the letter that he had been followed and that his phone and email were being read by others.

President Trump, who was in the residence at the time of the breach, said the “Secret Service service did a fantastic job last night,” and he described the suspect as a “troubled person.”

Surveillance video showed Tran jumping a fence near the Treasury Building on East Executive Avenue. He was arrested about 11:38 p.m. According to the criminal complaint, Tran told the arresting officer: “I am a friend of the president. I have an appointment.”

Friday night’s fence jumper is believed to be the first since Trump took office. In the previous two years, many people tried or succeeded in getting into one of the most secure residences in the world. Last year, the Secret Service added small spikes — or “pencil points” — to the top of the six-foot fence that surrounds the White House complex. The agency also announced a plan to raise the height of the fence to 11 feet by 2018.

Perhaps the most serious breach was on Sept. 19, 2014, when Omar Gonzalez climbed over the north fence and made his way deep into the White House. When he was finally tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent in the ornate East Room, he was found to have a knife in a pants pocket. Two hatchets, a machete and 800 rounds of ammunition were found in his car nearby. Secret Service Director Julia Pierson resigned two weeks later.

After that incident, the Department of Homeland Security flagged as a serious concern that not all officers on the complex were aware or heard the alarm that should have alerted them to a jumper crossing the fence line. In that case, a fence alarm did sound, but several radio and communication failures prevented some officers from hearing it.

Recently departed Secret Service director Joseph Clancy had pledged to fix the vulnerabilities that allowed the 2014 jumper to get so close to the presidential family’s residence.

John Wagner contributed to this report.