White House fence jumper released from custody

Nov 30, 2015 7:33 PM by CBS/AP

WASHINGTON -- A college student who jumped over the White House fence while draped in an American flag was released from custody on Monday, and his attorney said he hoped to resolve the case without going to trial.

Joseph Caputo, 22, of Stamford, Connecticut, pleaded innocent to a misdemeanor charge of illegal entry onto restricted grounds, which carries a maximum penalty of one year in prison. Federal prosecutors agreed to Caputo's release from custody, with restrictions. A judge ordered him to submit to electronic monitoring, live with his mother and observe an 8 p.m. curfew.

Caputo's actions on Thursday prompted a lock-down of the White House grounds while President Barack Obama was celebrating Thanksgiving with his family.

Caputo left a suicide note with friends and a will with his mother, telling her she may never see him again, court documents show.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the District in Congress, said in a statement that she was "flabbergasted" by Caputo's "remarkable jump" and urged the Secret Service to find a way to improve security without sacrificing public access to the White House.

According to court documents, Caputo had been staying with two friends in Virginia this week, and the friends provided the Secret Service with a note in which Caputo stated his intention to die on Thursday.

According to the documents, the note read, in part, "Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around us who transform into the Force," in an apparent reference to the mythology of the "Star Wars" movies.

Caputo wore the American flag like a cape when he went over the fence, the documents show, and he was carrying a USB flash drive in the shape of a "Captain America" shield. He also carried weightlifting gloves and pocket guide to the Constitution, authorities said.

Caputo and his mother declined to comment as they left court. His attorney, Stephan Seeger, said Caputo's actions were a form of protest and that he had no plans to harm himself or anyone else. He went over the fence with a binder in his teeth containing a revised version of the Constitution, Seeger said.

"I just don't think that Joe Caputo is the poster child for enhanced security at the White House or anywhere else in the country for that matter," Seeger said. "You have a politically conscious young man who had some ideas he wanted to express, and the mode of delivery is really the issue."

Caputo's next court hearing was scheduled for Jan. 12, and the judge suspended speedy-trial rules to give attorneys time to negotiate a plea deal.

"We're hoping to work toward a resolution as quickly as possible," Seeger said. "We do hope to avoid going to trial. There are some aspects of this case that don't warrant a trial."

Caputo, a student at the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut who has no criminal history, was also ordered to stay out of the District of Columbia except for court appearances and meetings with attorneys. He will also undergo a mental health evaluation.

The Thanksgiving Day incident, the latest in a string of fence-jumping episodes, follows recent attempts by the Secret Service and National Park Service to beef up security measures around the presidential mansion.

Caputo was the first person to scale the White House fence since the Secret Service installed metal spikes atop the structure in response to a series of security breaches, including a man armed with a knife who got deep inside the executive mansion before he was arrested.


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