At Woodside High School in a suburb south of San Francisco, Suzanne Jensen was a bright, hardworking student who excelled at sports, according to her mother, Karla Straube.
There was no hint, says Straube, of a future that would include arrests at military bases around the country, including MacDill Air Force Base.
“She was a championship swimmer,” says Straube, now 73 and living in Mt. Shasta, California. “She was an accomplished sailor. She has been on the Berkeley Yacht Club as a crew on many sailboats. She is a good racer. She snow skied and has been scuba diving and horseback riding.”
When she wasn’t engaged in sports, Jensen worked, says her mother.
“She always had a part-time job,” says Straube, a retired graphic artist. “Oh gosh, she worked at a bicycle shop, an insurance company doing filing. She worked for a drug company doing lab work. All while in high school.”
After graduating, Jensen took that same drive, says Straube, to the University of California at Berkeley, where she graduated in 1984 with a degree in genetics.
But as her daughter grew older, Straube says mental illness began to get the best of her.
“She thought she was a secret agent working for the government,” says Straube, who spent Wednesday morning in California waiting for word of her daughter’s competency hearing before a federal court judge in Tampa, where she is accused of sneaking onto MacDill four times between last October and January.
The hearing was scheduled to take place Wednesday , Jensen’s 51st birthday.
Informed by a reporter that Judge Anthony Porcelli delayed the hearing, pending a defense motion to seek pretrial release to receive mental health treatment at a Virginia facility where “she has thrived,” Straube sighs.
When she takes her medication, Jensen is fine, says Straube. But when she doesn’t, trouble follows.
“Of course I am worried about her,” says Straube. “She is my daughter. I love her.”
Jensen’s first known foray onto a military installation took place on Feb. 10, 2003, according to court records.
She went into a furniture store on Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. — home of the Joint Special Operations Command and the Green Berets — and spent the night, according to federal court documents.
Federal documents don’t say why Jensen slept in the furniture store on Fort Bragg. But they list her address as a general purpose address at the base.
Three days later, Jensen was found trespassing at Pope Air Force Base, on the same installation as Fort Bragg. The documents don’t say why she entered a base facility called The Pope Club, the base officers and noncommissioned officers club.
She was charged with trespassing on a military base in each instance. The charges were dropped four years later by prospectors citing prosecution discretion and “staleness” of the case. The documents offer no explanation.
Later that year, Jensen was arrested by Capitol Police in Washington, D.C., after being found in an office belonging to California congressman Devin Nunes.
She apparently snuck into the annex office after someone forgot to lock the door, according to Damon Nelson, Nunes’ deputy chief of staff,
Despite the arrests, Jensen was able to not only function, but succeed in life, says Straube.
For about a decade, Jensen worked for the Forest Service, says Straube. She was also married, though it ended after about a decade, says Straube, who does not know when the couple were married or divorced.
In 2007, Jensen earned a biotechnology certificate from Solano Junior College in California, making the dean’s list, says Straube.
“She got straight As,” Straube says. “She is quite educated.”
After receiving the certificate, Jensen got a job with Novartis Pharmaceutical company as a technical support specialist, according to her mother.
But Jensen was inconsistent in taking her medication, says Straube.
On Aug. 24, 2011, Jensen was arrested again at a military base. This time it was Fort George C. Meade in Maryland, where she was accused of stealing merchandise from the Fort Meade Army and Air Force Exchange Service. That charge is still pending.
A few months later, on Dec. 6, 2011, Jensen trespassed at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, in Fort Myer, Va., according to court records, and later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to time served.
May 12, 2012, Jensen was arrested for trespassing on yet another military base, this time Fort Benning, Ga. She was found guilty and served a 20-day sentence, according to court records.
Over the years, Straube says that she would file missing persons reports when her daughter, who would live with her from time to time, wandered off.
Straube says she does not know how her daughter made it to Tampa, but on Oct. 1, a retired Air Force major named Barney Morris noticed a strange woman on his boat, moored at the base marina.
Thinking that people don’t wander onto one of the most secure facilities in the country, Morris said he assumed Jensen, “was a dependent of someone on the base.”
But when he tried to detain her, she jumped into the water. Morris, a postal security officer, called security forces, who then reached out to Tampa police, which provided air support and search dogs. After six hours, a soaking wet woman matching Jensen’s description was found at Seascapes Restaurant on the base, according to an affidavit.
When base security officers ran her name, they found that she had no base affiliation, but “an extensive criminal history involving other incidents of trespassing on other military installations.”
She was cited for trespassing and held under a 72-hour involuntary commitment order known as a Baker Act, according to jail records.
On Nov. 18, Jensen was spotted on base again, this time at the gym. When she was detained, Jensen gave a photo identification she had taken from a locker, according to the affidavit. When security officers escorted her to the MacDill gate, Jensen showed them how she used a trash can she got from softball fields outside the gate to enter the base, flipping it over to use “as a ladder to get over the wall,” the affidavit said.
She was cited for trespassing and unauthorized use of a military identification.
On Dec. 17, a security officer saw a “suspicious individual” hiding behind a parked car in the lot at Building 49. Jensen tried running from the officer, but then stopped. She had a backpack filled with clothing, which Jensen said she had taken from a drop box for donated clothes. Jensen was again cited for trespassing and removed.
A few weeks later, on Jan. 4, security officers saw Jensen on base again. She said she climbed a perimeter wall next to the MacDill Avenue gate, had been living inside a boat on a trailer in the base Family Camp for eight days and again had been taking clothes from the drop box.
She was cited for trespassing.
The charges at MacDill were not the last time Jensen was arrested on a military base.
Jensen was arrested in Colorado on July 29 after she made her way onto Fort Carson and wound up in a Special Forces recruiting office. When she started asking questions about the 10th Special Forces Group, headquartered there, it raised concerns and military police were called in, according to a spokeswoman for the base. Officials learned that Jensen had outstanding warrants from Tampa, and she was arrested and sent back here.
Wednesday afternoon, Jensen’s federal public defender, Stephen Baer, asked Porcelli to delay the competency hearing. He is hoping to get Jensen back to a Virginia mental health facility where she had been a patient and “thrived” as he tries to seek a dismissal of the Fort Meade charge.
Hospitalized from April 7 to June 13, Jensen “performed well,” Baer told Porcelli. “She did not escape, she was discharged.”
Prosecutor Natalie Adams objected to Baer’s request. The prosecution had argued that Jensen “may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering her unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against her.”
Porcelli, who did not set a date for a new hearing, said he is concerned about Jensen’s well-being and noted she is charged with misdemeanors.
“It is not doing her any good sitting in the Pinellas County Jail,” said Porcelli, adding that he was concerned that Jensen “might remain in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons longer than she would get as a potential sentence.”
Told by a reporter of the judge’s concerns, Straube, who has not seen her daughter in three years, expressed relief.
Jensen “is not a threat to anyone,” she says. “But she does think she is a secret agent and she goes on military bases, I guess, because she thinks she is either going for employment or thinks she is already employed. She really loves to work and her motive, always, is employment.”