Day after officer jailed, bomb threat, sickout shut down courthouses

By Nick R. Martin | December 2nd, 2009 | 1:13 pm | 11 Comments »

Maricopa County Superior Court
Three buildings make up the main facilities for the Maricopa County Superior Court.

Maricopa County’s main courthouses in downtown Phoenix have been shut down today as a bomb threat and a possible sickout by detention officers crippled one of the largest justice systems in the nation just a day after a sheriff’s officer was jailed for violating a court order.

A spokesman with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said 911 dispatchers in Phoenix took a call of a bomb threat at about 10 a.m., and evacuations of the county’s three main Superior Court buildings began quickly after that. Hundreds of people poured out of the buildings, which make up one of the five largest court systems in the nation, and proceedings have been called off for now.

Since then, the sheriff’s bomb squad and other agencies have been sweeping the buildings with dogs, looking for potential devices. “I don’t know when that will be over and whether (the courts) will open again today,” said sheriff’s spokesman Det. Aaron Douglas.

Karen Arra, a spokeswoman with the courts, said later, however, that the courts were scheduled to open again at 1:30 p.m.

Douglas said the sheriff’s office has not been able to track down reports that the threat was called in by somebody who was upset about recent developments involving the case of sheriff’s detention officer Adam Stoddard.

Stoddard was jailed on Tuesday night after refusing to apologize for taking a confidential document from the files of a defense attorney in a bizarre Oct. 18 courtroom scene that was all captured on security video. Stoddard later said he believed the document contained information about some kind of crime or threat that could be taking place in the courthouse.

However, after several days of testimony and hearings, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Gary Donahoe ruled that there was no threat and Stoddard was found in contempt of court for violating the attorney-client privilege. He was ordered to apologize or else face jail time. This week, he chose the latter.

Douglas said, however, it’s unclear whether today’s bomb threat is related to the incident, as has been reported by other media.

“We have not tracked that down as far as the validity and the reason behind the bomb threat,” he said. “This is still an active case.”

Douglas also confirmed that a high number of detention officers called in sick today, but he said the motives behind that are also unclear. “Because of the flu season, we normally have a high number of sheriff’s staff out sick,” he said.

“A lot of media wants to link that together” with Stoddard’s case, he said, but it is too early to know.

Douglas said the office plans to and the information will be given to Sheriff Joe Arpaio to decide what to do.

But the president of the union that represents the county’s detention officers denied unequivocally that a sickout had been organized.

“We did not orchestrate that,” said John Solano of the Maricopa County Association of Detention Officers. “Nobody orchestrated that that we know of. We wouldn’t do that.”

Instead, he said a “solidarity march” and rally is planned for 1:30 p.m. today in front of the courthouses – given that they can get close enough in light of the bomb threat.

Solano said the union wants to make sure Stoddard “knows we’re there for him.”

“We think that a public humiliation by the judge is not something that’s righteous or necessary under the law,” he said, adding that Stoddard did “what he thought was a protection of the law, and the protection of the office and the judge himself.”