Nearly four months after a Beavercreek man was accused of causing a security breach at Wright-Patterson, the Air Force has withheld a police report and surveillance video and other details about the alleged incident that led to the evacuation of two buildings and a shelter-in-place order for a day care center.
The suspect, Edward J. Novak, 32, is scheduled for a court arraignment next month on federal charges that include trespassing, assault and inducing panic. He is accused of driving through Gate 22B near Interstate 675, entering a restricted access area in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Sensors Directorate and assaulting “an individual with the initials ‘S.D.’” Authorities say Novak has no ties to the base.
This newspaper is seeking information on the case because of the impact it had on the community and to determine whether security on the base is sufficient to protect the 27,000 people who work there.
The incident caused a major disruption. Police blocked roads on and off the base in the midst of the situation while area law enforcement agencies, the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Wright-Patterson Fire Department and an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal team responded.
A Freedom of Information Act request, sent Dec. 23, sought police reports and surveillance video. In a letter dated Feb. 24 but received March 17, the Air Force denied the request. Among other issues, it cited personal privacy protections, and exemptions for law enforcement tactics and techniques, homeland security and ensuring a fair trial.
“A thorough search for any segregable, releasable information in existence and relevant to your request was conducted,” the letter says. The letter was signed by the base commander, Col. John M. Devillier.
An official with The National Security Archive, an independent, non-profit watchdog group in Washington, D.C., challenged the reasons for the public records denial.
“It appears that this withholding does not pass the laugh test,” Nate Jones, director of the agency’s Freedom of Information Project, said in an email to this newspaper. President Barack Obama, Jones said, “instructed all agencies on his first day in office that just because they can withhold some information, does not mean that they should. Apparently, the Air Force FOIA office did not get the message.”
Jones said public interest in the case dictates that the Air Force release as much information as possible to explain what happened.
Federal authorities have not disclosed why employees were evacuated for nearly three hours, why an explosive ordnance disposal team was at the scene and the circumstances behind why the suspect was charged with assault. Officials also have not disclosed how far the suspect made it into the building or what he did while inside.
Devillier has said the suspect gained entry when someone walked through a doorway.
Wright-Patterson spokesman Daryl Mayer referred questions Friday to the U.S. Attorney’s office, which is handling judicial proceedings in the case. Jennifer Thornton, a U.S. Attorney spokeswoman in Columbus, said in an email that because “litigation is ongoing in this matter, it would be inappropriate for us to provide details outside of what is contained in public court documents.”
In addition to trespassing, assault and inducing panic, Novak was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence, making false alarms, failure to comply with a lawful order, fleeing and eluding a police officer and disorderly conduct, federal court records show.
The defendant, according to the charges filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office, “did cause the evacuation … by initiating or circulating a report or warning of an alleged or impending fire, explosion, crime or other catastrophe, knowing that such report or warning was false.”
Dennis Hetzel, president of the Ohio Coalition for Open Government, questioned why more information was not released.
“I’m kind of baffled why they can’t redact information on these documents that might apply to some of these exemptions and release the rest of it,” said Hetzel, the executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association. “It’s hard to imagine that every document they have is exempt.”
Devillier has said base security is his top priority. In a December press conference, he said a range of security upgrades at Wright-Patterson were planned.
U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, has said he has appealed to the Air Force to improve infrastructure security and add more guards at entry points at Wright-Patterson. The base plans to relocate two gate entryways in future security changes.
Novak was released after he was detained by authorities the day of the incident, officials have said. He did not show up for a scheduled court arraignment in February and was rescheduled to appear before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Michael J. Newman in April.