Bomb threat at York County courthouse forces cancellation of hearings

York County Court House in Alfred.
Seth Koenig
York County Court House in Alfred. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 10, 2014, at 10:46 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 10, 2014, at 2:26 p.m.

ALFRED, Maine — Court proceedings were canceled Monday while police searched the York County courthouse in Alfred after receiving a report that a bomb had been placed in the building.

No explosives were found.

The bomb threat was reported at 8:40 a.m., according to Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

“We have state police there that are going to go through the building, and it has disrupted the court schedule for the day,” he said Monday morning.

Police completed the search and reopened offices in the building early Monday afternoon.

“The courthouse is safe,” McCausland said early Monday afternoon, noting that Sheriff Maurice Ouellette reopened the building to the public at about 12:30 p.m.

However, Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the state court system, said court proceedings at the site have been canceled for the day, but will resume as scheduled Tuesday.

Michael Coty, director of Judicial Marshals and Emergency Services for the state court system, said bomb threats at Maine courthouses happen occasionally, but admitted “it’s been a while.”

Coty said he could not recall a case in which the threat of a bomb turned up any actual explosives. Most often, he said, they have been cases in which a person due for a court hearing wanted to avoid the appearance. But, he said, the plan typically backfires, as the appearance is simply rescheduled and, if the perpetrator is caught, they end up with extra charges to answer for.

“They’ve all basically been — like the ones you hear about in the schools — bomb scares,” Coty said. “Not a lot of difference.”

In October 2010, the federal courthouse in Portland was evacuated as bomb-sniffing dogs investigated a suspicious bag left nearby. But the bag was determined to have only old clothes and a cellphone charger, and police ultimately decided it was likely left behind mistakenly by a homeless person.

The courthouse in Presque Isle was cleared out temporarily in February 2004 due to a bomb threat, as well, and in April 1999, the Knox County courthouse in Rockland was emptied because of a report that a bomb had been planted inside.

The York County courthouse in Alfred was reportedly built in 1806, with additions and updates on several occasions since.

Some of Maine’s highest profile trials have taken place at the site, including the notorious 1873 double murder trial of Louis Wagner, who was found guilty of rowing out to Smuttynose Island and murdering two women there with an axe, and last year’s trial of Thomaston insurance broker Mark Strong on prostitution-related charges.

Strong was accused — and ultimately found guilty — of helping run a prostitution business out of a Kennebunk Zumba fitness studio managed by Alexis Wright. In part because of the quaint Maine setting and salacious rumors of high-profile clients, the case attracted worldwide media attention.

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