Authorities investigate threatening letters sent to City Hall, courthouse

Police continue to investigate several threatening letters — some containing bullets or white powder — that arrived at City Hall and the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. courthouse Monday and Friday, authorities said.

City Hall was evacuated for about 40 minutes today after a mail clerk opened a letter that contained a white powder that police later determined to be harmless, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said. Four Circuit Court judges also received threatening letters, at least two containing bullets, according to authorities. One judge said she received a letter with white powder, along with the bullet.

"We're actively trying to search the buildings to see if there are additional envelopes," Guglielmi said, adding that U.S. postal inspectors and city police are investigating.

Judges Wanda K. Heard and Administrative Judge Marcella M. Holland were among those who received the letters, along with Judge M. Brooke Murdock, who heads the criminal division. Her secretary, Sharon George, opened the note Monday, she said.

"She was very calm, she's great under pressure," Murdock said of her secretary. "She just said to me, 'Judge, I'm not putting my hand in there.' "

Murdock alerted police, who immediately sent a hazardous materials team to the courthouse to check it out. Officers determined that the powder was likely talcum, she said.

"Judges on the Baltimore City Circuit Court have their lives threatened all the time," Murdock said. But "not quite like this," she added. "This is pretty dramatic."

Judges Heard and Holland referred questions to Plemmer, but they discussed the matter in an e-mail exchange Friday, according to messages obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

In the first message, Heard complained of a security breakdown within the courthouse.

"The mail should have been scanned. Obviously, it wasn't," she wrote, describing how her law clerk found a bullet and a "threatening note" warning her about things she "might touch or even eat." Heard also wrote that the mayor had received a similar letter Friday. She copied the e-mail message to her colleagues, because "They should all know to be careful!!" she wrote in the note.

Holland replied minutes later, saying she had already been notified by the Baltimore City Sheriff's office, who had alerted postal service investigators and city police.

"There was no breakdown on the part of our court employees," Holland wrote.

Chief Deputy Henry Martin of the Baltimore Sheriff's Office said his department dealt with Heard's letter on Friday, notifying city police and the U.S. Postal Service.

"We take all threats seriously," he said.

Plemmer said in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun that there was an anthrax scare at the courthouse several years ago, when "several judges received a powdery white substance in an envelope that was mailed to them." It too turned out to be something other than anthrax.

The City Hall package was discovered about noon, and the clerk notified police on duty there, who called 911, said Fire Department spokesman Chief Kevin Cartwright.

A hazardous materials team was dispatched to the scene, and the building was evacuated within about 10 minutes, according to Cartwright. He said he did not know whether Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake was in the building at the time. The package was found to be harmless and employees returned to work about 12:40 p.m., Cartwright said.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said there were no reports of injuries.

Baltimore Sun reporter Michael Dresser contributed to this article.

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