WASHINGTON — An Ohio man pleaded guilty Friday to rigging his Jeep so that it would crash, unoccupied, near a White House Secret Service guard booth in June.
Joseph Reel of Kettering, Ohio, pleaded guilty to the charge on Friday — just one day after a Connecticut woman was shot to death by police in a car chase that began when she tried to breach a barrier at the White House.
Reel faces 35 months in prison under a plea agreement with prosecutors, but U.S. District Court Judge Rudolph Contreras will make the final determination. Reel will also pay $5,345 in restitution to the U.S. Park Service for the damage he caused. Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 10, and he will remain jailed without bond until then.
At Friday’s hearing, Contreras alluded to the previous day’s car chase and killing. The judge said he didn’t know if Reel has heard the news, but said Reel was “lucky to be alive” following the June incident — and lucky no one else was injured.
Reel pleaded guilty to assaulting, impeding, intimidating and interfering with an officer or employee of the United States with a dangerous weapon.
According to a statement of offense signed by both sides, the 32-year-old man wanted to spray-paint a “don’t tread on me” snake on the White House residence. He believed that would lead others to “stand up against government.” Reel rigged his Jeep by affixing a wooden block on the accelerator and shifting the car into drive, sending it down Pennsylvania Avenue in the direction of a Secret Service guard post at the White House complex. The Jeep was traveling 40 mph when it hit a light post, a steel bollard and a steel bike rack around 3 a.m.
Just before launching the vehicle, Reel called 911 to report a threat against the president, with the goal of creating a distraction that would help him get to the White House residence so he could spray-paint the “don’t tread on me” snake. After the crash, he jumped the fence of the courtyard of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex. He was arrested soon after.
Authorities found hundreds of rounds of ammunition, eight knives of various sizes, two machetes and a hand-held spotting scope in the Jeep.
Reel told Contreras that while he was in the District of Columbia jail, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, for which he is currently being treated.