A man draped in an American flag was taken into custody Thursday afternoon after he jumped the fence of the White House while the first family was inside celebrating Thanksgiving.
Joseph Caputo faces criminal charges after he scaled over the north fence line of the grounds and was immediately apprehended about 2:45 p.m., said Robert Hoback, a spokesman for the Secret Service. Officials did not provide details on Caputo’s age, home town or any reason for the jumper’s actions.
The Secret Service did not immediately provide further details of the incident, and officials were working to determine how the man made it past new “pencil-point” spikes added to the White House perimeter this year to deter intruders.
Virginia resident Vanessa Peña was visiting the White House with her sister Thursday afternoon when she saw a man behind them take off his sweatshirt and wrap an American flag around himself.
Peña then heard him take a deep breath before saying, “ ‘All right, let’s do this.’ ”
“Then he just ran through us, jumped over the first barricade and went over the fence,” said Peña, who captured photos of the incident. “Right when he landed, he threw his arms in the air and went to his knees.”
Officers and security dogs quickly swarmed the man, who carried a binder in his mouth as he sailed over the fence, and took him into custody, Peña said. The incident lasted no more than five minutes.
Police deployed rapidly, pushing the usual crowd of tourists back through Lafayette Square to H Street. The square and Pennsylvania Avenue were cordoned off for much of the afternoon after the incident.
A group of Jehovah’s Witnesses was also in the area Thursday, distributing literature by the black iron fence on Pennsylvania Avenue on the mild, sunny afternoon.
One of them said he saw the man climb over the fence.
“He was walking toward the White House with his hands up,” said the man, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The police told us to move away as quickly as possible. I looked over my shoulder. I was scared.”
The Secret Service and security at the White House have been under intense scrutiny since last year, after Omar Jose Gonzalez was able to make it to the president’s front door and into the first floor.
Gonzalez, who was convicted in connection with the incident, jumped the fence and bolted past several layers of security before a Secret Service agent detained him, prompting a review of the agency’s practices and the resignation of Director Julia Pierson.
Several others have since attempted to jump the fence.
Peña, who is an intern on Capitol Hill, said she never expected to witness what has become an increasingly common event.
After police detained the man, Peña turned to her sister and her sister’s friend visiting from out of town and offered a very simple remark.
Juliet Eilperin and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.