Kan. Capitol Suspect Released But May Be Charged

Published February 17, 2012 12:09AM (EST)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A man whose pickup was found to contain homemade bombs near the Kansas Statehouse has been released from custody but still could face criminal charges, a Capitol Police spokesman said Thursday.

The Kansas Highway Patrol, which operates the Capitol Police, planned to discuss possible criminal charges next week with Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, police spokesman Patrick Saleh said.

Taylor told The Associated Press that his office is meeting Friday morning with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to discuss the case.

Saleh said the owner of the pickup remains a suspect in the incident Wednesday but was released late Wednesday after being detained by the Capitol Police and questioned by the Highway Patrol and the Topeka Police Department. He'd last been in custody at the Topeka police headquarters, and authorities were not releasing his name to preserve his privacy and his right to a fair trial, should he be charged.

The man has a home in Topeka but a Florida's driver's license, and the pickup had a Florida license plate. Saleh said officers from multiple law enforcement agencies searched the man's home Wednesday and seized items "associated with the explosive devices found in his truck," but would not elaborate.

Saleh said authorities don't believe there's a danger that the man will flee from the area but would not discuss why or the reasons behind the man's release, only that the decision was made based on what the man said in interviews. Saleh would not say whether the man was under surveillance.

"We have everything that would cause concern in the world in our possession at this time," Saleh told The Associated Press. "We do not see him as a flight risk."

Police in Topeka detained the pickup's owner and another man Wednesday in what authorities described as unrelated incidents involving potential threats against the Statehouse. The second involved an allegedly threatening phone call to Gov. Sam Brownback's office.

The pickup with the homemade bombs was found in a parking lot for the Kansas Judicial Center, across the street from the Statehouse. Officers detained the owner in an underground tunnel linking the Statehouse and a state office building. Saleh said the pickup's owner was unarmed and offered no resistance.

Officers investigated the pickup Wednesday morning after a state employee called to say it was parked in a restricted lot without a state worker tag. An officer saw suspicious objects inside, including an empty gun holster, and authorities called in the Topeka Police Department's bomb squad.

Authorities temporarily blocked traffic and access to the parking lot, but they didn't evacuate the Judicial Center, the Statehouse or the office building connected to the Capitol by a tunnel. Legislative meetings went on as scheduled.

Authorities have not disclosed how powerful the devices were.

The black Ford with no hood and a beat-up front grill, had been removed from the Judicial Center parking lot by Thursday morning.

The truck carried a specialty Florida license plate issued only to qualified U.S. military paratroopers. It also had a special forces sticker on its bumper and stickers on its back window saying, "Welcome to America. Now speak English" and "Does my American flag offend you? Call 1 800 LEAVE THE USA." The gate of the pickup bed bore a decal from a dealership in Ocala, Fla.

The Associated Press attempted to check the license plate number with the Florida Highway Patrol, but officials declined to provide information about the vehicle's owner.

The pickup incident and the phoned-in threat to Brownback's office came the same day a Kansas House committee opened three days of hearings on several bills designed to crack down on illegal immigration, backed by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a former law professor who helped draft tough laws in Alabama and Arizona.

Authorities said neither arrest was connected to a coinciding rally at the Statehouse that was protesting policies pursued by Brownback, Kobach and other Republican officials.

Police arrested and jailed a 37-year-old man accused of making the threatening phone call to Brownback's office. The man, who is not being identified by The Associated Press because no criminal charges have been filed, appeared in court Thursday by video conference from the local jail.

"I'm sorry about all this," he said, before presiding District Judge Steven Ebberts interrupted him to remind him that any statements he made could be used as evidence against him in court.

A Shawnee County prosecutor told a judge her office is considering a felony criminal threat charge against the man, who was arrested at a Topeka motel. Ebberts set his bond at $25,000. The man was arrested on suspicion of harassment by telephone, a misdemeanor.

Authorities said the man has no permanent address but his last known home was in Columbia, Mo. He told Ebberts he was planning to return to Salina, 100 miles west of Topeka, after spending the winter in Tennessee and Missouri, and in court he gave the address of a Salina motel as his home.

By Salon Staff

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