WASHINGTON (AP) – An Army veteran with mental health issues who got over the White House fence and inside the executive mansion was sentenced Tuesday to 17 months in prison, and a judge said that means he's likely to be released before Christmas.
Omar Gonzalez's arrest in September was an embarrassment to the Secret Service in particular because officers weren't able to stop him until he was inside the East Room of the home. It was one of several Secret Service security breaches that ultimately led to the resignation of agency director Julia Pierson in October.
Judge Rosemary M. Collyer said in sentencing Gonzalez on Tuesday that the White House is often thought of as "the most secure place in the world" but that Gonzalez's actions showed it was not, at least on that day. Gonzalez, 43, was found carrying a folding knife in his pants pocket, and investigators found hundreds of rounds of ammunition, a machete, knives and several tomahawks in his car, which was parked nearby. Gonzalez told a Secret Service agent after his arrest that he wanted to tell the president that the atmosphere was collapsing.
President Barack Obama and his daughters had just left the White House when Gonzalez got inside. The first lady was not home.
On Tuesday, Gonzalez said he was "sorry for my actions" and told the judge: "I never meant to harm anyone." He said he was committed to continuing the mental health treatment he started in jail.
Gonzalez's lawyer David Bos urged the judge to sentence him to "time served," the approximately nine months he has spent in jail since his arrest, and said he deserved leniency because of his Army service. Prosecutors recommended a sentence of 18 months during Tuesday's hearing. Federal sentencing guidelines suggested a sentence between 12 and 18 months.
In sentencing Gonzalez to 17 months followed by three years' probation, the judge said Gonzalez's actions were "a very public crime" and she was concerned about deterring others. But she also said she wanted to fashion a sentence long enough to enable him to be transferred from jail in Washington to a prison in California, where his father lives and where Gonzalez intends to live after he is released.
The judge said she wanted him in California when released to be under supervision and get continuing mental health treatment immediately. With credit for good behavior, she said, she expected him to be out of prison in time for Christmas.
Gonzalez has agreed to stay out of Washington while on probation and allow the Secret Service access to his mental health records. He also has to submit to interviews with the Secret Service if the agency deems that necessary, and "no more guns," ''no more knives," ''no more tomahawks," the judge told Gonzalez. "Got it?"
Gonzalez served in the Army from 1997 to 2003 and from 2005 to 2012 and was a cavalry scout responsible for "providing security and patrol," his attorney said. He was deployed to Iraq from 2006 to 2008 and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after his return, his attorney said.
Prosecutors said Gonzalez was aware for years that he "needed treatment to address his PTSD, paranoia, and hallucinations, but did not make sufficient efforts to consistently obtain that treatment."
Gonzalez, who previously lived in Copperas Cove, Texas, pleaded guilty in March to assaulting, resisting or impeding a Secret Service officer and entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon.
The judge said Tuesday, however, that: "The White House isn't just any old restricted space."