WASHINGTON – A college student who jumped over the White House fence while draped in an American flag was committing civil disobedience and had no plans to harm himself or others, his attorney said Sunday.
Joseph Caputo, 22, of Stamford, Connecticut, was carrying a binder with "a rewritten Constitution" when he scaled the fence on Thursday, prompting a lockdown while President Barack Obama celebrated Thanksgiving with his family, attorney Stephan Seeger said. Caputo was the first person to jump over the White House fence since the Secret Service installed additional metal spikes earlier this year in response to a series of security breaches.
Seeger said his client was different from previous fence jumpers, including a man who was armed with a knife and got deep inside the executive mansion before being arrested.
"He's a young American that wanted to deliver a message of change," Seeger said. "People have been paying so much attention to the jumping of the fence because we live in this climate of fear."
A judge on Friday ordered a psychiatric evaluation for Caputo, who is due in federal court on Monday. Seeger said his client has been diagnosed with an Asperger's syndrome, an autism-spectrum disorder, but has managed the condition well.
Caputo is charged with one count of illegal entry onto restricted grounds, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison.
Seeger also disputed that his client was suicidal, which the Secret Service had alleged in charging documents. Caputo left a will with his mother and a note that suggested he planned to die on Thanksgiving, the documents said. Seeger said his client had no intention of taking his life and was only trying to communicate the possible consequences of his actions.
Caputo's version of the Constitution contained "an expression of desire for change in various areas of society including education, the judiciary, voting rights and privileges," Seeger said.
The young man is close with his family and is studying criminal justice and martial arts at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, said his attorney, who plans to argue for his release from custody.
"There's nothing threatening at all about Joe Caputo," Seeger said. "He's not a threat to national security."