There was a time when anyone, even a reporter, could stroll up to the Louisiana Governor's Mansion and knock on the front door. There were no guarantees of getting in, or seeing anyone important. But sometimes it was worth a try.
That was before a tall iron fence was erected in 1998, during then-Gov. Mike Foster's first term.
Not that Foster felt unsafe. After two U.S. Capitol guards were killed trying to protect the building from a gunman that year, Foster assured listeners to his radio show that he had confidence in the state police protecting him in Baton Rouge, saying they were good shots and adding, "I am usually well-armed."
Still, he supported the fence. Even before the Washington incident his spokeswoman had noted instances after hours and on weekends when people were found sleeping on the mansion's porch or the expansive lawn.
Some objected to fencing off the mansion. During the 1999 governor's race, Foster's challenger vowed to tear the barrier down and "let back in the people of our state."
The Louisiana State Police on Monday revealed a security breach at the Governor's Mansion, saying they had arrested a man last week who trespa…
But Foster won, the fence remained. Security at the mansion and the nearby State Capitol only grew tighter in the post 9/11 years. The days of easy access to the mansion are long over.
Or are they?
Somehow, authorities say, a 34-year-old man from Baton Rouge apparently got past the fence. He, too, was found sleeping at the mansion. And not on the lawn.
You wouldn't know that from the initial arrest report, however. And the suspect was, at least initially, more successful in getting into the mansion than the public has been at getting news about the intrusion. It all raises questions about accessibility — to the mansion and to information — as well as accountability.
According to an affidavit briefly describing an arrest made the morning of April 17, there was a report of a man sleeping "inside a Government Building." The man was found on a couch, near a broken antique table. The report said the suspect became violent after being taken to a Department of Public Safety office.
The man who police say broke into the Governor’s Mansion and fell asleep on the couch was found just before 6 in the morning April 17, records…
Among the charges suspect Reynard Toby Green faced, according to booking records, are criminal trespassing, battery of a police officer, an attempt to disarm one officer and burglary of an inhabited dwelling.
Last Monday, it was only after questions from The Associated Press that state police revealed that the "Government Building" where the man was sleeping, the "inhabited dwelling" he's charged with having burgled, was usually inhabited by the state's chief executive and his family.
Other details have been hard to come by, including when, if ever, state police were going to let taxpayers know that the breach had happened.
After news of the intrusion broke, about five days after it occurred, neither state police nor Gov. John Bel Edwards would explicitly confirm whether Edwards and his wife were in the mansion or how they became aware of the incident.
Can't see video below? Click here.
At a Louisiana Press Association luncheon on Tuesday, the governor would give no details, noting the investigation is ongoing. He expressed confidence in state police and, in his only comment on the incident said, "At no time were we anything other than safe."
That some details would be withheld for a time — to make sure vulnerabilities aren't exposed before they are identified and corrected, to make sure an investigation isn't compromised — is understandable and routine.
But no news on the April 17 incident came out until days later, after officials were pressed for information about it.
"The circumstances around the incident are still under investigation. LSP is currently evaluating security procedures for potential areas of improvement," said a statement from Louisiana State Police. Unsaid, at that point, was how long the public was going to be kept in the dark.
Kevin McGill is a reporter for The Associated Press in New Orleans.