Gun at courthouse a fake

August 6th, 2009 by

TAMPA - A gun that made it past the checkpoint of the Hillsborough County Courthouse turned out to be a fake, but has sparked some genuine questions about security there.

3,200 people were evacuated when a woman with a lighter in the shape of a gun made it through security.

That was around 9 a.m. According to the sheriff’s office, civilian courthouse security guards did not report the incident until three hours later.

When deputies finally arrived, Hillsborough Sheriff’s deputies evacuated the entire complex and did a sweep of the building. They found nothing suspicious.

“I have confidence we have a secure facility,” said Sheriff’s Colonel Jim Previtera, who declined to speculate about the three-hour delay. Previtera did not that the screeners are not under the sheriff’s authority, they work for a separate county department.

When FOX 13 called the man who heads courthouse security, a subordinate said to call back Thursday. She declined to give her name or provide additional contact information for her boss.

In a news conference this afternoon, Previtera outlined what is believed to have caused the breach itself.

He said that the woman approached the checkpoint like any other courthouse visitor. She placed her bag in the X-ray and walked through a metal detector. By the time a civilian screener spotted the supposed weapon through an x-ray machine, the bag and the woman it belonged to had disappeared into the crowd.

“As to how that took place, what transpired or what led to that, that will be determined hopefully,” Previtera said.

Investigators were able to review surveillance video and identify the woman. Previtera said her movements on were recorded on tape, and showed her she speaking with a Tampa Police detective in the courthouse. That officer was later able to tell deputies who the woman was and where she lived.

The woman was located around 5 p.m. and provided investigators with the replica gun, Previtera said.

Employees and visitors were allowed back in after 1 p.m. The Sheriff’s Office says the buildings were evacuated for 1 hour and 45 minutes. Many said the evacuation was orderly.

“They just sent an officer into the jury room and they told us to evacuate the building, that was it,” said Jeff Kirsh, a juror.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office says it will let the State Attorney determine whether criminal charges are warranted. Previtera said there will be an internal investigation of the situation, including the three-hour delay and how screenings are completed.

“If it was up to me, we’d frisk everyone coming in,” Previtera said . “That’s the only way to guarantee complete and total security.”


One Response

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