Gunman Is Shot Outside White House

Wednesday, February 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — A man who fired shots outside the White House fence was shot by a Secret Service officer Wednesday after a 10-minute standoff, officials said. The episode triggered a tight midday security clampdown.

President Bush was safe in his residence, exercising, at the time. Vice President Dick Cheney was working in his office. Laura Bush was at the family ranch in Crawford, Texas.

``The president understood that he was not in any danger,'' White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said.

The wounded man was identified by law enforcement sources as Robert W. Pickett, a 47-year-old accountant from Evansville, Ind., who had been fired by the Internal Revenue Service in the mid 1980s.

Pickett was taken to nearby George Washington University Hospital where he was to undergo knee surgery and psychological evaluation. He was in stable condition.

Officials said the episode began when police heard shots and approached a man with a handgun on the sidewalk outside the fence on the south side of the White House.

``He was waving it in the air — it was pointed at the White House at one point — and pointing it in all directions,'' said Park Police spokesman Rob MacLean. At another point, the suspect placed the gun in his mouth, MacLean added.

``A 10-minute standoff ensued upon which time the Secret Service fired a shot into the suspect's leg,'' Fleischer said. Asked why officers fired on the man, Fleischer said they ``felt it was necessary. ... He was armed with a weapon that he had discharged.''

The gunman, Fleischer said, had ``fired a number of shots.''

The confrontation occurred on a street frequented by tourists, within sight of the fountain on the South Lawn of the White House.

Secret Service spokesman Marc Connolly said an officer fired one shot, which struck the gunman in the right knee. A Secret Service official who spoke on condition of anonymity said a five-shot handgun, .38-caliber, was recovered along with ``an unknown number'' of shell casings.

Pickett was not listed in Secret Service files as a threat to the president, law enforcement officials said. Agents were seeking a warrant to search his home.

Evansville police said Pickett did not have a criminal record. They said his father had filed a missing-person report on his son in 1993, but it was suspended when the son returned.

Neighbors described Pickett as a friendly man, an accountant who had lived in a modest home in Evansville and kept a neat lawn. He frequently jogged.

``I was really surprised. As far as I knew, he was an outstanding neighbor,'' said Lewis Gates.

Evansville attorney Joseph Yocum said he represented Pickett in the late 1980s when the man appealed his firing by the IRS. ``They said he wasn't doing his job properly and having trouble with attendance,'' Yocum told The Associated Press. Pickett lost the appeal and later acted as his own attorney and filed a federal lawsuit against the agency and several other federal officials, Yocum said.

At the hospital, Dr. Yolanda Haywood, associate professor of emergency medicine, described the man as conscious and unusually calm for someone with a bullet wound.

Added Dr. John Williams: ``The patient who came in was not talking, was completely motionless, was not giving any indication that he was having any pain or anything.''

Meantime, the FBI's Washington field office opened an investigation of a possible assault on a federal officer, according to a bureau official.

A witness said she heard a popping sound, followed by smoke. After that, Secret Service officers ``told him to `drop it''' and then sit down. And then he ``slowly sat down on the ground,'' said the witness, Sook Jo from Centreville, Va.

Dan Halpert, a tourist from Queens, N.Y., was headed to the Holocaust museum, across the Mall from the White House, when officers told him to get down and clear the area.

``We were all running away. It was scary,'' said Halpert, 24.

Another witness Martin Manley told CNN the gunman ``was just standing in the street and randomly fired a few shots.''

He said the man jumped into bushes, was surrounded by police but initially refused to surrender.

``Police were talking to him, telling him `it doesn't have to be this way, put the gun down,''' Manley said. ``Then I heard one shot and the police all rushed in.''

Connolly, the Secret Service spokesman, said nobody else was injured, and the gunman never was inside the White House fence.

Rep. Bob Clement, D-Tenn., said he was attending a White House meeting when the Secret Service alerted people there had been a shooting ``and not to leave the White House. ... Believe it or not, it was very calm where we were.''

At the Treasury Department next door, the entrance between the department and White House was immediately closed. It was later reopened to officials with security passes.

Security has been tightened in and around the White House in recent years. The most significant change was the closing of the section of Pennsylvania Avenue that passed in front of the Executive Mansion. Wednesday's incident was on the opposite side of the White House, the back side facing toward the Washington Monument.

Fleischer said Bush was still reviewing whether Pennsylvania Avenue should be reopened.

In May 1995, the Secret Service shot a man who scaled a White House fence, carrying an unloaded gun. An official said at the time the man had asked to see President Clinton.

Nine months earlier, a pilot died when he crashed a small plane on the South Lawn of the White House. About a month later, a man pulled a rifle from under his trench coat and sprayed the front of the White House with bullets.

More than a mile east of the White House, in the summer of 1998, a gunman went on a shooting spree in the U.S. Capitol, killing two policemen.

Russell Eugene Weston, 43, has been held since then. He has not stood trial for the slayings because doctors have said he is mentally ill and unable to do so.

In March 1981, a gunman shot President Reagan, press secretary James Brady and a D.C. policeman outside a Washington hotel as the president was getting into his motorcade.