A man accused of carrying two small bombs in his car was charged Wednesday with a misdemeanor.
But the Kootenai County prosecutor said James D. Dove, 30, should have been charged with a more serious crime.
Although the explosives were small, “they still had the capacity to maim,” said Prosecutor Bill Douglas.
So why wasn’t Dove charged with anything more serious? Idaho law makes it no more than a misdemeanor to have explosives inside city limits. And there is no state law against having explosives outside city limits.
Experts say a growing number of explosives are turning up in the Inland Northwest, from small, homemade bombs to devices that have rocked buildings.
Two years ago, the Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms dealt with only a couple of situations involving explosives, said Spokane supervisor Bob Harper.
But during the past year, the agency has responded to a dozen or more incidents where bombs were either present or had already exploded.
So far this year, there have been five explosions in Spokane, Harper said. Prior to that, it had been seven years since a bomb had detonated, he said.
Harper suspects that recent media attention on bombings and explosives has contributed to the increase.
“They have brought it to people’s attention and that results in more experimentation, especially with kids,” Harper said.
Police evacuated part of downtown Coeur d’Alene Tuesday after a drug arrest uncovered explosive devices.
The Kootenai County Drug Task Force had been trying to arrest Dove on a methamphetamine possession charge when they pulled him over in the parking lot of The Zip Stop on Sherman Avenue.
While officers were searching Dove’s car, they found two small homemade explosive devices in the trunk of his car.
Traffic on Sherman Avenue was blocked off for much of the day and several businesses were evacuated. The Spokane bomb squad removed the explosives and destroyed them.
Coeur d’Alene Police Capt. Carl Bergh said it appears they were made of black powder and smokeless powder - typically used to reload gun shells.
Such small devices could not have caused a large enough explosion to damage a building, said Lt. Danny Odell of the Spokane bomb squad. Dove indicated to police he made the devices as a kind of firework.
Still, “most devices, even small ones, are capable of causing serious injury or death,” Harper said.
“We would have charged this as a felony if we had the statute,” Douglas said.
In February, Douglas drafted the Idaho Anti-Bomb Act that would have made it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison to possess bombs or bomb components.
He pointed out that a person caught with explosives in the city limits could only be charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by no more than six months in jail.
But the state Legislature killed Douglas’ bill after it was criticized for vague wording.
Now, only federal officials can file felony explosives charges against people in Idaho. But the ATF and U.S. attorney’s office is often too busy to handle many of the smaller cases, Douglas said.
The ATF is looking into Tuesday’s case but Harper said he doubted Dove would be charged with a felony crime. He said the quantity of explosives may have been too small to meet federal charging standards.
Douglas said he plans to try again next year to pass the Idaho Anti-Bomb Act.
“We need that law and this case is a prime example,” he said.
Dove could not be reached for comment. He is being held in the Kootenai County Jail on $5,450 bail on the explosives charge along with a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of methamphetamine.