Agencies team up for training
It looked like a day of carnage. Guns. Blood. Hostages. Bodies.
Passers-by asked one another what was going on, why police in SWAT gear had swarmed Riverside Avenue and the U.S. Courthouse. Until they saw the signs: “Spokane Police Training Exercise.”
The drill was one of the first nationwide staged in a federal courthouse, said U.S. Marshal Michael Kline. Designed to show how agencies interact, it involved nearly 100 people representing almost every specialized task force from federal, state, county and city agencies in the Spokane area.
“This was our first chance to see an operation go down,” said Joe Hawe, manager of tactical operations for Washington Association of Sheriffs & Police Chiefs. Friday’s drill encompassed law enforcement’s worst nightmares.
The scenario: A “disgruntled constitutionalist” stormed into the federal building lobby about 1:20 p.m. with a shotgun and shot several people, killing at least two. Then he set a bomb on one of the building’s nine floors before taking hostages, including a judge, into a seventh-floor courtroom.
Spokane police and Spokane County Sheriff’s Office SWAT teams responded shortly after the shots rang out. Several officers assisted the gunshot victims while others began to clear the building, including 100 federal employees.
When SWAT team members found an improvised explosive device, the Explosives Disposal Unit composed of city and county officers was called out. Kline said the bomb technicians had no idea what the mock explosive was made of or how it would look before arriving on Friday.
Backed up by a tactical robot on standby, a technician X-rayed the device and concluded it wouldn’t bring down the building, so the bomb squad detonated it with another explosive, said Detective Randy Lesser, the SWAT team leader for Spokane police.
Meanwhile, hostage negotiators arrived and made contact with the man inside. They, too, had only limited information before arriving on scene.
“We tried to make this training as realistic as possible,” Kline said. Officers “needed to ask what they needed to know.”
The Inland Northwest Joint Terrorism Task Force eventually took the lead investigative role because the shooter was considered a domestic terrorist.
After hours of talking, Spokane police negotiators persuaded the shooter to let three or four hostages go in exchange for pizza, Lesser said. But the judge was still held captive.
In the end, SWAT officers stormed the courtroom, surprised the shooter and took him out. The bad guy died, but the judge lived, Lesser said. Of course, it was all simulated.
Lesser, who helped coordinate the operation, said it was an “extreme” success, thanks in part to interagency cooperation.
“What we are proving through this exercise is how we all depend on each other,” Kline said.
The operation was the first chance for authorities to use the building’s schematics they mapped into a computer program, which allows officers to virtually walk through the building, Hawe said.
Officials have mapped about 200 public buildings in the Spokane area, including the Public Safety Building, schools, Spokane Arena and the convention center, he said.