U.S. Courthouse Attacks & Scares

Title: Las Vegas Courthouse Shooting Claims Officer, Gunman
January 4, 2010

Abstract: A gunman walked into a Las Vegas federal courthouse Monday morning and opened fire, killing a court security officer and wounding a deputy U.S. marshal.

Seven employees of the U.S. Marshals Service returned fire, chasing the shooter out of the building and across a busy street. As the gunman responded, a gunfight erupted between the gunmen and the marshal employees, according to authorities. The shooter, clad in black, died after collapsing in bushes across the street from the courthouse.

Authorities believe the suspect acted alone and wasn't part of a terrorist network.

A law enforcement official identified the gunman as Johnny Lee Wicks.

A gunman is shot to death after opening fire inside a Las Vegas federal building. Reports indicate a failed lawsuit over Social Security benefits might have been the reason behind the 66-year-old shooter's actions. Video courtesy of Fox News.

Authorities believe the gunman may have been motivated by anger over cuts to his social security benefits and may have sued the federal government over cuts to his benefits, the source said.  

Mr. Wicks filed suit in April, 2008, in United States District Court in Nevada, alleging that racial discrimination motivated social security agents to reduce his benefits after he moved from California to Las Vegas. In the suit, he said he had had a stroke and that his leg was so swollen he couldn't go outside.

The Social Security Administration said in court documents that the benefits were reduced under standard procedures because the plaintiff lost a California supplement when he moved to Nevada. The suit was dismissed in September, 2009. "The action by the district office has cause me great hardship," the plaintiff said in a handwritten complaint.

The shootout started around 8 a.m. local time in the foyer of the Lloyd D. George federal courthouse, where visitors go through a metal detector, as the gunman pulled a gun out from under his jacket. Afterward, officers evacuated the federal building and began investigating nearby buildings to ensure there were no accomplices at large. Authorities didn't find anything indicating that others were involved, Mr. Denby said.

A video reportedly shot by a witness that surfaced shortly after the shooting indicates that at least 40 shots may have been fired between the gunman and the officers.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations is investigating the shooting in collaboration with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the U.S. Marshals Service.

The marshals protect the federal building, which includes federal agency offices in addition to the courthouse. The offices of Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign are also housed in the building. It is a little more than a mile north of the Las Vegas Strip.

U.S. Marshals identified the fallen security guard as retired Las Vegas police officer Stanley W. Cooper, 72. An employee of Akal Security, Mr. Cooper has worked as a contracted security officer in Las Vegas for the U.S. Marshals for 16 years.

Mr. Cooper and the deputy marshal, who remains unidentified, were transported to University Medical Center following the shooting. The deputy marshal, 48, is in serious condition. His injuries aren't expected to be life threatening, said hospital spokesman Rick Plummer.

"Words cannot express our concern and sorrow for all those impacted by this tragedy," said Jeff Carter, chief of public affairs for the Marshals Service. "The brave and immediate actions of these two individuals saved lives by stopping the threat of a reckless and callous gunman" (WSJ, 2010).

Title: Prosecutor: Officers Justified In Fatally Shooting Arkansas Courthouse Gunman
September 20, 2011
Fox News

Officers were justified in fatally shooting a gunman who entered a western Arkansas courthouse and opened fire on court workers, a county prosecutor said in a letter to local law enforcement.

Crawford County prosecutor Marc McCune wrote to Sheriff Ron Brown and Van Buren Police Chief Kenneth Bell in a letter dated Monday that all officers involved in last week's shootout with James Ray Palmer acted "reasonably and professionally."

Authorities say Palmer, after firing shots inside a judge's office and throughout the building, walked outside and shot at authorities who had responded to panic alarms and 911 calls.

Officers fired back and wounded Palmer, who died later at a local hospital.

"The officers were defending themselves and others from the use or imminent use of deadly physical force by James Palmer," McCune wrote.

An Arkansas State Police investigation is ongoing, though officials say no one else is suspected of helping Palmer, 48, carry out the attack.

He is believed to have entered the Crawford County courthouse, with two handguns and an assault rifle concealed under a long jacket, to find Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell. When a court worker told Palmer the judge wasn't in, he opened fire.

The court worker was wounded, as was a police officer who was hit by bullet fragments outside. Neither was killed.

Cottrell had approved Palmer's divorce from Steffeny Palmer in 2001. Steffeny Palmer had obtained a restraining order before the divorce. She accused James Palmer of attacking her, setting their couch on fire and threatening to buy assault weapons, according to court documents.

State police spokesman Bill Sadler told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that authorities still want to find out where Palmer obtained the weapons he used. Authorities also are waiting on autopsy, toxicology and ballistics reports, Sadler said.

The courthouse had security cameras installed inside and outside the building. State police, citing an ongoing investigation, have denied an Associated Press open records request for the tape of Palmer's attack (Fox News, 2012).

Title: Suspect In Washington State Courthouse Attack Arrested
March 10, 2012
NBC News

Authorities on Saturday arrested a man suspected in a courthouse attack in Montesano, Wash., at a home in the state capital of Olympia after a tip from his mother, according to media reports.

The mother of 34-year-old Steven Daniel Kravetz called Thurston County authorities after police released a flier with her and her son's photo. The mother, Roberta L. Dougherty, told authorities her son was at a residence in Olympia, The Seattle Times reported.

A SWAT team surrounded the house and negotiated his surrender, KOMO News reported. He was taken into custody without incident.

Kravetz is suspected of stabbing a judge and shooting a sheriff's deputy with her own weapon in a courthouse struggle in the coastal town of Montesano in Grays Harbor County, which is about about 90 miles southwest of Seattle and just west of Thurston County.

"He acted alone and we know him to be the assailant," Grays Harbor County Sheriff's Undersheriff Rick Scott said earlier Saturday. "We're operating under the belief that he's still armed."

Kravetz fled the courthouse with the officer's .45-caliber handgun after Friday's attack and showed up about an hour or so later at the office of his former attorney and asked to the use the phone, Scott said.

The attorney had represented Kravetz a number of years ago and "didn't know anything was up," Scott said.

Investigators believe Kravetz called his mom at about 3 p.m. and that she apparently gave him a ride out of the area, Scott said.

"We don't know what her knowledge or involvement is," the undersheriff said, adding: "We're concerned for her welfare. We don't know what his mental, emotional state was following the incident."

Around noon Friday, the deputy responded to a report of a suspicious person at the courthouse and confronted a man, Scott said. During a struggle, she was stabbed with either a small knife or scissors.

"When I went to assist the deputy, he had a weapon in his hand, a knife or something, and he was stabbing her," says Edwards. "And that's when I got stabbed."

When Davin attempted to draw her firearm, the attacker knocked her to the ground and took the weapon away from her, then shot her in the shoulder.

"He got the gun away from the deputy and went 'pop pop!'" said Edwards. "And [he] turned and looked at me then he went out the courthouse with the gun in his hand."

Both the judge and the sheriff's deputy were treated and released from a hospital hours after the attack.

Kravetz has 2008 felony convictions in Washington's for third-degree assault with a weapon and making a false statement to a public servant, according to court records, The Seattle Times reported. He was arrested after he refused to cooperate with police after being kicked out of a Centralia public library, Centralia police Sgt. Stacy Denham told the newspaper (NBC News, 2012).

Texas Courthouse Shooting Hostages Turn 'Heroes'
March 14, 2012
ABC News

A Houston man on trial for aggravated sexual assault opened fire today in Beaumont, Texas, leaving his 20-year-old daughter in critical condition and wounding her mother, according to police.

Bartholomew Granger, 41, also shot at two bystanders, killing 79-year-old Minnie Ray Seabol and wounding the other bystander, police said.

The incident began at 11:21 a.m. when Granger began shooting from a truck in front of the Jefferson County courthouse.

His daughter, Samantha Jackson, and ex-wife were witnesses against him in his sexual assault case; Jackson had already begun her testimony in the case and was scheduled to resume at 1:00 p.m.

"He was in the vehicle shooting; officers did return fire," Beaumont Police Department Officer Carol Riley said at a news conference. After shooting his daughter, Granger ran her over with his vehicle, authorities said.

Nine officers responded when the shooting started.

After Granger's truck was disabled, he ran about one block to a business and took hostages inside the establishment.

The hostages, however, refused "to be victims," said Beaumont Police Chief James Singletary at a press conference later today. "They took the gun away from him and unlocked the door for the SWAT team" to enter.

Singletary added, the hostages did "a great job and we want to thank them." The hostages' names have not been released.

Granger suffered some gunshot wounds during the confrontation with law enforcement, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Mitch Woods. He has been released from the hospital and is in custody in the Jefferson County Jail.

He is expected to be arraigned on murder and attempted murder charges, but no court date has been set.

Granger's ex-wife and the second injured bystander have both been treated and released from the hospital. Granger's daughter remains hospitalized in critical condition.

This is the second courthouse shooting over this past week. On March 7, a shooting outside the Tulsa County Courthouse in Oklahoma left one deputy and three others injured. A barefoot man went to the courthouse plaza and apparently began shooting randomly (ABC News, 2012).

Title: Russian-American Accused Of Bomb Threats Against El Cajon Courthouse
August 22, 2012
Santee Patch

A Russian-born U.S. citizen accused of threatening a sheriff's deputy and a judge at the El Cajon courthouse pleaded not guilty Tuesday to felony charges.

Georgiy Chipunov, 28, faces up to three years and eight months in prison if convicted of two counts of making a false bomb threat.

Chipunov—who was detained Thursday in Tijuana and turned over to U.S. authorities—has his bail set at $1 million.

A news release from the Baja California Public Safety Secretariat described the defendant as "a dangerous Russian terrorist" who had "threatened to explode the installations of the court in San Diego ... as well as kill judges and officials."

The alleged threats led to the closing of the courthouse for two days, according to the statement.

San Diego County Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Jan Caldwell would only say that Chipunov was arrested for allegedly "sending threatening emails" to the deputy and the judge.

Chipunov will be back in court Monday for a bail review. A preliminary hearing was set for Sept. 4 (Santee Patch, 2012).

Title: Man Arrested For Making False Bomb Threat At Local Courthouse
Date: September 11, 2012
Fox Charlotte

Abstract: A Caldwell County man is in custody after confessing he made a false bomb threat. According to deputies, Michael Ellis Presnell, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with making a false bomb report to a public building. 

On August 16, 2012, a call came in about a suspicious package in the men's restroom of the Caldwell County Courthouse. Investigator Lt. Aaron Barlowe investigated the incident and was able to identify Presnell as the suspect.

Barlowe admitted to making the package look like it was an explosive device. He is currently being held in the Caldwell County Detention Center under a $50,000.00 secured bond (Fox Charlotte, 2012).

Title: Federal Courthouse In Gadsden To Shut Down
Date: September 12, 2012

Abstract: Gadsden's federal courthouse is shutting down. They are one of six of six courthouses in the south the government's closing because of money problems.

The news shocked many people in residents. People who work at the courthouse were never even notified. They found out through the media.  The city also didn't see this coming.

Kay Moore, Director of Downtown Gadsden Incorporated, said, "Very frustrated, very frustrated that they would take a building that beautiful."

A few months back the city learned Gadsden could soon lose their courthouse due to federal cutbacks.  They were one of sixty courthouses nationally put on list of possible closures, but even then Gadsden wasn't worried.  Moore says they were led to believe their courthouse would be ok. "If your 22nd on the list, and they tell you we're only going to close ten, you assume it's going to be the first ten. That's common sense. We are really just hoping it's not going to happen," said Moore.

Congressman Robert Aderholt, who has an office located inside the courthouse, said in a statement, "I was surprised to learn today that the Judicial Conference decided to close the Gadsden Federal Courthouse. Earlier this spring, when the Judiciary released the list of courthouses it was considering closing Gadsden was ranked 22 out of 60, with reports indicating only the top 10 courthouses would eventually face closure. My staff and I are looking into the Judicial Conference's decision further. Regardless of what happens next, I have always had an office in Gadsden and I remain committed to keeping a presence in Gadsden."

Moore says had the city not been mislead into believing they would be ok, they would have fought harder."That's something we don't ever want to happen, have an abandoned building," said Moore.

Moore says they cannot tear the building down. It's been deemed historic. She says if the government doesn't reverse their decision, the city will come up with a plan. She just can't believe no one called the city, and she's even more upset of the timing of the announcement. "They made the announcement on September 11th. I think that's crass" (WBRC News, 2012).

Title: 30 Courthouses In Tennessee Receive Bomb Threats
Date: November 27, 2013
Fox News

Abstract: Bomb threats to 30 courthouses and other government buildings across Tennessee forced many to be evacuated Tuesday, including the federal building in Memphis, but authorities said no explosives were found.

Tennessee became the fourth state to deal with similar bomb hoaxes. One targeted 28 courthouses in Oregon and similar threats were reported in Nebraska and Washington this month.

Nine threats were reported in West Tennessee counties -- including the Memphis federal building -- seven in Middle Tennessee and 14 in East Tennessee, said Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security spokeswoman Dalya Qualls.

No arrests have been made in Tennessee and authorities had searched about 14 courthouses by Tuesday afternoon.

Jeremy Heidt, a spokesman for the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency, said the threats were made by telephone to court clerk offices. "It's been going on all morning," said Heidt.

The threats to courthouses in Ashland City and Clinton were made by men.

"It was just a man's voice saying simply if this is the Cheatham County Courthouse you're about to be blown up, and it startled me. So I just said I'm sorry. I tried to get him to repeat himself and that's when it just cut off and I thought `Oh my,"' Cheatham County deputy clerk Rebecca Nicholson told WTVF-TV.

Anderson County Clerk Jeff Cole told The Knoxville News Sentinel that a man's voice simply said "There's a bomb in the building" and hung up.

The FBI is working closely with state authorities and will pursue federal charges if necessary, said Joel Siscovic, the bureau's spokesman in Memphis.

The federal building in Memphis houses the federal court and offices for the Department of Justice, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. It was cleared around 9 a.m. for a couple of hours while authorities checked it.

Police temporarily blocked a trolley line that ran by the federal building in Memphis and brought in a dog to search the building before letting people return around 11 a.m.

According to Memphis police spokeswoman Karen Rudolph, a woman called police around 8:30 a.m. and said she had information that someone was going to blow up the county criminal justice center, the federal building and a main U.S. Post Office in the city.

All three locations were searched and nothing was found, she said (Fox News, 2013).

Title: Federal Employee Fatally Shoots Self Inside Alabama Courthouse
December 13, 2012
Fox News

Abstract: Police say a federal employee is dead after shooting himself inside the city's main federal court building in Birmingham.

Sgt. Johnny Williams says an unidentified worker pulled out a weapon and shot himself once in the head about 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Williams said the man carried a gun inside a clerk's office on the first floor and shot himself.  The man was transported to a local hospital where he died a short time later.

Peter Montgomery, a witness inside the courthouse, told FOX6 News he heard a gunshot from inside a clerk's office on the first floor. Moments later, he saw an elderly man with blood pouring from his head.

Montgomery said security told everyone to stay down.

Williams says the shooting occurred in a first-floor clerk's office. He says the man apparently was able to get the weapon inside because he worked in the building, where visitors are normally required to go through metal detectors (Fox News, 2012).

Title: County Prosecutor Shot Dead Outside Texas Courthouse
Date: January 31, 2013
Fox News

Abstract: An assistant district attorney was shot and killed Thursday morning near the North Texas county courthouse where he worked, and authorities said they were searching for two suspects.

Mark Hasse, 57, had exited his vehicle in the parking lot behind the Kaufman County Courthouse annex and was walking toward the building when he was shot multiple times just before 9 a.m., said Kaufman County spokeswoman Pat Laney. Hasse was taken away in an ambulance, but Laney did not know if he died at the hospital or en route.

Investigators were searching for two suspects believed to have fled in an older model Ford Taurus either brown or silver in color. Officials didn't immediately indicate any motive for the shooting in Kaufman, located about 33 miles southeast of Dallas.

Kaufman Independent School District Superintendent Todd Williams said all schools in the district were placed on lockdown as authorities searched for the suspects, and officials eventually decided to close the buildings for the day.

Local law enforcement officials decried the shooting as an attack on the criminal justice system.

"We understand that we may come into contact with violent people but this is the next level," Kaufman County Sheriff David Byrnes said Thursday at a news conference.

Kaufman Police Chief Chris Aulbaugh said the shooting would have a major impact on the town and the county.

"Any loss of life, especially someone out there protecting the community, would have that effect," he said.

Calls to the district attorney's office Thursday were not immediately returned.

Investigators gathered in a parking lot adjacent to the annex where the prosecutor was shot. Yellow tape and law enforcement vehicles blocked the area from spectators. Laney said a $10,000 reward was being offered.

"It's going to take a long time to get over this," said Wayne Gent, an attorney whose law office is on the courthouse square. "And the thing is, everybody's vulnerable."

Gent, who previously served as Kaufman County judge, said when he was in that role he had a security system installed at the courthouse to prevent an armed person from bursting in. But no system could prevent a shooting that occurs outside, adding another level of fear, he said.

"How do you protect against that?" he asked.

Carolyn Mikeal, who works at an insurance agency on the square, said the shooting is a stunning development for the usually quiet community.

"It's just a shock," she said. "A small county like this, it's the last thing you expect to happen”  (Fox News, 2013).

Title: Massachusetts Police Officer Suspended After Leaving Gun In Courthouse Bathroom
Date: February 6, 2013
Fox News

Abstract: A Massachusetts police officer has been suspended after leaving his gun in a courthouse bathroom, the Boston Herald reports.

Capt. John Rogers Jr. left behind his department-issued .357 revolver on Jan. 28, and it was discovered by police two days later.

Rogers, also an internal affairs investigator with the Plymouth Police Department, will lose 30 days' pay, give up his job in internal affairs and be retrained in the proper handling of weapons, the Herald reports.

“He has always presented himself in a professional manner and is a well-respected law enforcement officer in the area,” Plymouth Police Chief Michael Botieri said. “Capt. Rogers has taken full responsibility for his actions and has never been disciplined over his entire career. He also recognizes that his behavior warrants severe disciplinary action” (Fox News, 2013).

Title: 3 Shot At Delaware Courthouse, Suspect In Custody
Date: February 11, 2013
Yahoo News

Abstract: A police spokesman says three people were shot at the New Castle County Courthouse in Wilmington, Del., and a suspect is in custody.

Wilmington police Cpl. Jamaine Crawford says two women and a man were shot early Monday and that the man hit was a security guard. Crawford says he does not know the condition of the three people who were shot.

The person in custody is a man (Yahoo News, 2013).

Title: 2 Wounded In Shooting Outside South Carolina Courthouse
Date: February 13, 2013
Yahoo News

Abstract: A man involved in a paternity dispute opened fire Wednesday in front of a South Carolina courthouse, wounding a woman and her stepfather, then led police on a 12-mile chase before he was caught, a sheriff said.

Suspect Curtis Gorny and 21-year-old Olivia Weaver were at the Chesterfield County courthouse for a paternity test and at about 12:30 p.m., Weaver was shot in the face and torso, said Sheriff Sam Parker. The child was not with her mother. Her stepfather, Donnie Nolan, was also wounded. The conditions of the victims were not known but Parker was taken to the hospital.

Parker says Gorny fled from officers, firing from his vehicle before he was forced into a ditch.

The shooting comes just two days after a man authorities say was involved in a bitter family custody battle fatally shot his ex-daughter-in-law and another woman at a Delaware courthouse and killed himself.

Gorny, who is in his 50s, claimed to be the father of Parker's baby and was at the courthouse for a DNA test, the sheriff said.

Security at the courthouse saw the shooting and called in a description of Gorny's vehicle. Deputies spotted him a few minutes later.

Investigators are still reviewing what happened to determine what charges to file, Parker said (Yahoo News, 2013)

Title: Philly Courthouse Evacuated Over Anthrax Report
Date: February 20, 2013
Fox News

Abstract: A fire official says the second floor of the federal court building in Philadelphia has been evacuated after authorities found a letter containing a threat about anthrax.

Executive Fire Chief Richard Davison says crews responded to the federal court building in the city's historic district around 9:25 a.m. Wednesday. He says people have been evacuated from the second floor, but people on other floors remain in the building.

Williams says a letter was found, but he did not immediately know if any substance was found.

A spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Police Department says officers are also responding to the scene, but she did not immediately have additional information on what prompted the response (Fox News, 2013).