12/03/2005

Courthouses around Conn. evacuated after bomb threat

By JIM KEVLIN
Associated Press Writer

HARTFORD, Connecticut- A bomb threat prompted police to evacuate the state's court buildings Friday, abruptly interrupting trials while sending judges, lawyers and people with routine court business into the streets.

State police evacuated all of the state's 45 judicial court buildings and were searching them Friday.

"All we know right now is there was a bomb threat," said Wayne Sandford, deputy homeland security commissioner. "We're trying to get information on it as we speak."

The telephone threat was made midmorning on a constituent phone line answered by a staff member in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office, gubernatorial spokesman David Dearborn said.

A counterterrorism official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation, said that the caller threatened to detonate bombs at 2 p.m. (1900 GMT) at state courthouses in the towns of New London, Danielson, Danbury, Middletown, Manchester and New Britain.

Local and state police bomb squads were notified that state police were requesting a sweep of state courthouses.

Defense attorney William Gerace was in the Danielson Superior Court for pretrial conferences when it was evacuated.

"At first they told us we'd be back in momentarily," he said. "Then we heard a rumor there was a bomb threat. I started looking at my clients suspiciously, but they all swore they didn't do it. We all stood around outside in the cold for an hour and a half."

Connecticut's judicial branch has 83 facilities; 45 include courtrooms.

"They were very nonchalant, very smooth," said Madeline Hunt, who was in the Hartford Superior Court building attending her son's court appearance. "'OK,' they said. `Everyone's got to leave.' There was no panic, no nothing."

U.S. Marshal John Bardelli said bomb squads were sweeping federal courts in Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford but that those courthouses remained open.

"A threat came in," he said. "I'm not sure the nature of the threat. It came in through the state police."

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Associated Press writers Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington, Pat Eaton-Robb in Hartford, Conn., and Matt Apuzzo in New Haven, Conn., contributed to this report.

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