Letter prompts partial evacuation of BR courthouse

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A suspicious white powder found in an envelope Monday in the 19th Judicial District Courthouse downtown accompanied a letter spouting threats to parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III, an FBI spokeswoman said.

“I’m pretty sure they have a suspect,” Moore said roughly five hours after the substance was discovered, which prompted a partial evacuation of the courthouse.

He declined to elaborate on who the suspect might be or what type of threats were made, citing the FBI’s ongoing investigation.

The substance was found in the mail processing area in the Clerk of Court’s Office on the third floor of the 300 North Boulevard building shortly after 10:40 a.m.

The FBI’s spokeswoman in the New Orleans field office, Mary Beth Romig, confirmed the threats and investigation, but said she could not release more information on the case.

Other inquiries made to local agencies were directed to the FBI.

The Baton Rouge Fire Department’s hazardous materials crew entered the room at about 11:40 a.m. and scooped up the envelope containing the powder, department spokesman Curt Monte said.

Some clerk of court employees who were in the room when the envelope was opened were briefly quarantined before being released.

The third floor was evacuated — other floors were not immediately affected — and was reopened at 12:05 p.m.

Preliminary testing determined the substance was non-toxic, but Fire Department officials were not able to identify the substance.

Monte said the substance will be sent to a laboratory in Shreveport for further testing.

Romig would not confirm whether the substance or threats were related to a similar incident that occurred at the Russell B. Long Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Baton Rouge exactly one month ago on Nov. 2.

On that day, authorities found a white powdery substance in an envelope in the U.S. District Clerk’s Office at about 2 p.m., accompanying a letter stating there was a bomb in the courthouse.

A bomb was never found.

A preliminary test of that substance revealed it was not toxic and it was sent to an FBI laboratory in Virginia for further testing.

FBI agents did speak to an unidentified inmate in jail or prison outside the parish following that threat, but that inmate’s name was never released.

Advocate staff reporter Jim Mustian contributed to this report.