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Courthouse Evacuated for Suspicious Package

Santa Barbara County Sheriff's officers ready the bomb squad robot to enter the courthouse and examine a suspicious briefcase found under a bench. | Credit: Paul Wellman

The Santa Barbara Courthouse emptied this morning around 8 o’clock after a regular visitor spotted a briefcase covered with tape wedged underneath a bench. Robert LaBarge told reporters he’d seen the suspicious-looking package when he was walking down a hallway toward the men’s room and informed a clerk in the courthouse about it.

Attorneys and visitors waited outside the courthouse while Sheriff’s bailiffs taped off the entryways, awaiting the bomb squad’s arrival. This report will be updated as information becomes available.

[Update: May 3, 2019, 10:51 a.m.] A couple hours after the call came in to the Sheriff’s bomb squad unit, officers rolled out a robot, which was remotely piloted into the courthouse to examine the briefcase. Several hundred people had been evacuated, Sheriff’s spokesperson Kelly Hoover said. The robot was x-raying the briefcase as part of its examination, Hoover said, and the evacuation could be lifted within the hour if the package was benign.

The court’s law-and-motion Friday docket had dozens of cases that were suspended until the courthouse reopened. The Figueroa Street courthouse remained open.

Just two weeks earlier, a bomb threat evacuated the County Administration Building one block up the street on April 17. As on that day, this morning Anacapa Street is blocked off to car traffic. Figueroa Street between Santa Barbara and Anacapa Street is also blocked.

[Update: May 3, 2019, 12 p.m.] The courthouse reopened at noon today, court administrator Angela Braun said. Two floors near the corner of Anacapa and Figuroa Street had been evacuated, but the 1:30 p.m. hearings would resume as usual.

[Update: May 3, 2019: 2:50 p.m.] The owner of what officers found to be a messenger bag came forward around 11:30 a.m., the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office disclosed in its report on the courthouse evacuation. Nothing suspicious was found in the bag.

Though the county courthouse is in the City of Santa Barbara, the Sheriff’s Office provides the bailiffs for the building. It also operates the only bomb squad in the county.

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