A man who draped himself in the American flag and jumped over the White House fence on Thanksgiving Day last year took a plea deal Monday that will likely resolve the case without a jail sentence.
Joseph Caputo of Stamford, Connecticut, appeared in federal court in the District of Columbia to plead guilty to entering or remaining in a restricted building or grounds. Prosecutors have agreed not to ask for jail time in the case but can ask for a period of probation of up to three years.
Caputo has agreed to not enter the District of Columbia during any period of supervised release or probation, among other restrictions. The plea agreement estimates that federal sentencing guidelines in the case call for a sentence in the range of zero to six months. Sentencing is set for Dec. 6.
Caputo, 23, scaled the fence on Nov. 26, 2015 while carrying in his mouth a binder with a self-authored, “re-written” Constitution. Once over the fence he shouted “I love my country” and complied with Secret Service officers’ demands to get on the ground.
Caputo’s lawyer previously argued that Caputo’s actions were intended to call attention to deficiencies in the Constitution and protected by the First Amendment, so the charge against him should be dismissed. A judge disagreed, saying Caputo’s arguments “border on frivolous.” There is “no First Amendment right to express one’s self in a nonpublic area like the White House,” U.S. District Judge Christopher R. Cooper wrote.
Caputo isn’t the only person to successfully scale the fence in recent years. In September 2014, a Texas man managed to get over the fence, enter the executive mansion and run deep into the building. The man, Omar Gonzalez, was found to be carrying a folding knife and was ultimately sentenced to 17 months in prison. The security breach prompted officials to put up a second, shorter barrier several feet in front of the fence and to restrict people from entering the space in between the two barriers, but a month after Gonzalez was arrested, another man also got over the fence.
In 2015 a second layer of steel spikes was added to the fence, but Caputo still managed to get over it. Officials now want to increase the fence’s overall height by approximately six feet, about doubling its current height.
Caputo wore a suit and tie to Monday’s hearing, which his parents also attended. He told the judge overseeing his case that he was “a little nervous” but that it was “nice to get out of the house.” Caputo has been out of jail since his arrest, but he has a curfew and is required to wear an electronic monitor as well as stay away from the District of Columbia except for court proceedings.
After the hearing, Caputo’s lawyer, Stephan E. Seeger, called his client a “gentleman” and a “conscientious young man” who is not a danger to society. He said that at sentencing he’ll be able to give the court a more vivid picture of who his client is.
Seeger previously wrote in a court document that his client believed that the government was too preoccupied with foreign affairs and terror issues to pay attention to domestic issues including security at home, “as demonstrated by the Government’s inability to solve a seemingly simple problem, such as the height of the White House fence.”