Packs of tobacco that inmates may have been trying to smuggle into the Spokane County Jail were mistaken for bombs Wednesday, forcing the evacuation of nearly 100 people from the Public Safety Building.
A District Court bailiff found the first package about 11 a.m. in a second-floor courtroom. Court workers examined the package, which was wrapped in plastic and sealed with clear tape, and thought they saw batteries underneath.
They called members of the county’s bomb squad, which found a second, identical package in another courtroom down the hall.
Courtrooms, offices, judges’ chambers and a workout room on the second floor were evacuated as deputies, dressed in protective gear, carefully toted out the small packages.
Both were taken to a bomb disposal site west of Spokane, where deputies realized they were not explosives.
“There is a possibility the packages were left in the courtroom by outside accomplices, for jail inmates to pick up during court appearances,” sheriff’s Lt. David Wiyrick said. “Since tobacco products are no longer allowed in the jail, inmates are desperate for the contraband.”
Each package contained tobacco, rolling papers and cigarette lighters, which were mistaken for batteries. The packages were left in the courtrooms of Judges Richard Richard and Daniel Maggs.
Since the no-smoking rule at the jail went into effect last fall, inmates have started smuggling cigarettes and selling them for $20 each. Even butts and short pieces of cigarettes sell for $5.
More than 80 percent of the jail’s inmates are smokers, and commissary revenues dropped $2,000 a month from lost cigarette sales after the ban.
After Wednesday’s false alarm, District Court proceedings were canceled for the day and the building was sealed off for more than two hours.
Security will be tightened at the Public Safety Building beginning next week, when visitors will go through metal detectors at the entrance.
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