By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Government investigators faulted the Secret Service on Wednesday for pulling agents from their posts near the White House and sending them to the home of an agency employee involved in a private dispute in 2011.
The report by the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security is another embarrassment for the Secret Service, which is responsible for guarding the president and his family. Julia Pierson resigned as director of the agency this month after a series of scandals.
The report said top Secret Service officials diverted agents on its plainclothes "Prowler" team, which patrols around the White House, on five days in July 2011 to monitor a fellow employee's personal dispute with a neighbor. President Barack Obama was in the White House on two of those days.
"These agents, who were there to protect the president and the White House, were improperly diverted for an impermissible purpose. This constituted a serious lapse in judgment," Inspector General John Roth said in a statement.
The incident began when an unnamed employee in the director's office told her supervisor that an altercation with a neighbor had led to her father being assaulted, "which resulted in the loss of several of her father's teeth," the seven-page report said.
Keith Prewitt, the now-retired Secret Service deputy director, thought the agency should help the employee. A.T. Smith, then the assistant director for investigations and now deputy director, ordered security checks on the worker's home in rural Maryland, a 50-minute drive from the White House without traffic.
Roth's report found no legal or procedural justification for the checks and said the Secret Service should have stayed out of a dispute best handled by local police. The incident was reported by the Washington Post in May.
Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary said the agency had received Roth's report to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and was reviewing it for findings.
The inspector general's report comes a month after a U.S. veteran armed with a knife got inside the White House.
That breach was followed by the revelation that an armed security contractor with a criminal record rode on an elevator with Obama last month, along with new details about a 2011 incident in which shots were fired at the White House.
The agency's reputation also was tarnished in 2012 when it was reported that members had hired prostitutes in Colombia ahead of an Obama visit.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Bill Trott)