09/11/2006

Authorities investigating how loaded gun ended up in cellblock at busy D.C. courthouse

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON- Investigators were trying to determine how a loaded handgun got into a cellblock inside a busy downtown courthouse, the first serious security breach in at least 10 years, authorities said.

A cleaning contractor found the .25-caliber semiautomatic pistol under a wad of paper in a cell toilet at the District of Columbia Superior Court on Friday, said Steve Conboy, the U.S. marshal for the court.

Conboy, who oversees courthouse security, said he does not know how the small pistol was smuggled into the building. "We're not ruling anything out," he said. "At this point everybody's a suspect."

All prisoners are patted down by deputy marshals before being taken into the cellblock _ whether coming from the D.C. jail, police headquarters or off the street. But only people who are taken into custody in a courtroom after coming in off the street are scanned by a metal detector, Conboy said.

He said it was not unusual for drugs, makeshift weapons and other contraband to turn up, but finding a gun is far more serious because marshals do not carry firearms when working in the cellblocks. In 1988 and again in 1994, loaded guns were seized in the cellblocks before they could be used to do any damage, Conboy said.

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