Friday, October 26, 2001
Suspicious Powder Found in Courthouse Determined Not to Be Anthrax
By KIMBERLY EDDS, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A suspicious powder found in a letter yesterday morning at the Central Courthouse by an employee turned out not to contain anthrax, Los Angeles Police Department officials said.
“It is not a weapon of mass destruction,” LAPD Sgt. David Demarco said. “It is not anthrax.”
It was not yet known what the powder was, Demarco said.
A court records section employee discovered the suspicious white powder around 7:15 a.m. in a personal letter she had brought from home and reported it immediately to the deputy sheriffs in the building, Sheriff Sgt. Barbara D’Abusco said.
The area was condoned off and the LAPD’s Hazardous Materials team was called in to investigate, LAPD Officer Guillermo Campos said.
Almost the entire first floor of the courthouse was closed off to both public and employees, and workers in the records section were re-deployed while employees in the rest of the cordoned off area remained in their offices until the all-clear signal came from officers at 11:35 a.m.
Employees who came in contact with the envelope were isolated and kept inside the infected area, Campos said.
The air conditioning and heating system of the courthouse was turned off as a precaution, he said.
An e-mail sent to all Central Courthouse employees by court Executive Officer/Clerk John Clarke early into the investigation informed employees of the situation and assured that business would continue as usual.
“There is no cause for alarm,” Clarke wrote.
Mail sorting at the courthouse resumed moments after the all-clear, but with the strict instruction to “use the gloves.” Gloves were issued to mailroom workers as a precautionary measure when incidents of anthrax began appearing on the East Coast.
Two weeks ago the court instructed mailroom employees on safe mail handling techniques and distributed a memo to all court workers urged any employee who comes in contact with suspicious mail, packages or substances to notify the nearest law enforcement agency and their nearest supervisor.
Information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Postal Service describing anthrax and its dangers as well as procedures for handling suspicious mail was also distributed to employees.
A criminal investigation has been opened to find out who sent the powder, Campos said.
“We have taken control of [the substance] and we will further examine it,” Demarco said.
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company