Bomb threat at Benton County Justice Center a hoax

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldNovember 16, 2012 

The Benton County Justice Center was one of at least eight courthouses across the state to receive bomb threats Thursday afternoon, leaving officials to wonder if there's a connection.

A search of the Kennewick facility by a Hanford Patrol bomb dog failed to turn up any explosive devices, more than an hour after a caller said there were multiple bombs in the justice center.

"We obviously don't have any evidence that says there's a connection other than (eight) justice centers got calls in the same time frame about bombs being in the building," Benton County sheriff's Sgt. Bob Brockman said Thursday evening. "Obviously until everybody can get together and compare notes, it's just a coincidence right now, but highly suspicious."

The call came in about 3:15 p.m. to a Benton County District Court clerk.

The man told the clerk, "You better start getting people out of there because there's some bombs in there that are set to go in about 20 minutes," sheriff's Lt. Chuck Jones told the Herald.

The clerk made notes about the phone call, including any identifying information on the man, then alerted Administrator Jacki Lahtinen, who took it to authorities.

Within 10 minutes, a recorded message -- "Attention. Attention. Evacuate the building to the nearest exit." -- was played over facility loudspeakers for all employees and citizens.

More than 100 people streamed out all exits of the justice center and adjacent sheriff's office and waited in nearby parking lots until it became clear the building would not reopen until this morning. Employees were sent home.

A number of people who showed up to pay their court fines, turned away by authorities, gathered in front of the building.

Inmates in the jail were locked down in their cells during the investigation.

Sheriff's officials called in a Hanford Patrol officer and his bomb-detecting dog to assist in their search. They arrived just minutes after 4 p.m. and, once inside the building, took almost an hour before reporting that there were no suspicious devices inside.

Jones noted at 4:20 p.m. as he stood in the parking lot that the detonation time had passed. He added that it likely was not a serious threat.

"Usually these are hoaxes, but we've got to treat them like they are real," he said. "We don't want anybody to get hurt."

The Adams County Courthouse in Ritzville was evacuated after getting a call similar to the one Benton County received.

Undersheriff John Hunt said staff in the Superior Court Clerk's Office took a call from a man around 3:20 p.m. saying several explosive devices were in the courthouse set to go off in 20 minutes.

Deputies cleared the building and conducted a search. Nothing suspicious was found and there were no explosions, he said.

Staff was let back into the building around 4:15 p.m., Hunt said.

In Chelan County, the auditor's office got a call at 3:15 p.m. saying bombs were going to go off in the courthouse in 18 minutes, the Wenatchee World reported.

Calls about explosive devices were also made to courthouses in Thurston, Douglas and Clark counties, according to newspapers in Olympia and Vancouver.

NorthWest Cable News reported that courthouses in Columbia and Pacific counties also received bomb threat calls.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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