May 18, 2013 in City

FBI, Spokane police swarm Browne’s Addition

Colin Mulvany photo

Federal and local law enforcement search an apartment near the intersection of First Avenue and Oak Street in Browne’s Addition on Saturday, May 18, 2013. The search warrant is in connection with ricin-laced letters intercepted at a Post Office facility in Spokane earlier in the week.
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Map of this story's location

About two dozen police and federal agents executed a search warrant in Spokane this morning in connection with ricin-laced letters intercepted earlier this week at a Spokane post office processing facility.

The FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and Spokane police took part in the operation. Some agents wore hazardous materials gear to protect against possible contamination from ricin, a deadly poison.

The search occurred in an older apartment building on the north side of First Avenue between Oak and Elm streets in Browne’s Addition.

The letters — one addressed to a federal judge and another to the Spokane post office — were postmarked Tuesday, officials said.

FBI spokeswoman Ayn Sandalo Dietrich said that no arrests had been made as of late morning.

She declined to say whether a suspect had been identified. Authorities were withholding details, she said, because they were in the middle of their investigation.

Neighbors in the clinker-brick apartment building were allowed remain inside their units and to come and go from the property. First Avenue was cordoned off with police tape from Oak to Elm.

“There is no public risk,” Sandalo said.

Neighbor Scott Ward said he heard a scuffling sound outside his door this morning. “I thought someone may be getting hurt, so I opened my door and there was a SWAT team and they said, ‘Get in, lock your doors,’ ” he said.

A group of neighbors in the middle of moving had to haul items an extra half block to a moving truck, which was not allowed inside the police work area.

A postal worker delivering mail in the neighborhood adjacent to the search walked up to one of the U.S. postal inspectors and congratulated him for what appeared to be a break in the case.

The search began after dawn and continued through the morning. Police Chief Frank Straub was among the officers working on the case.

The FBI said earlier this week that the letters were seized during routine screening at a postal processing facility in Spokane, but provided no other details.

Ricin is a poison derived from the castor bean plant.

Postal management told postal worker union members that they had no reason to believe any employees were at risk from handling the suspect letters as they passed through the mail stream in Spokane.

The Postal Service said that preliminary tests on the letters showed the presence of ricin, but that the substance was in a form that could not easily be inhaled or ingested.

This story is developing and will be updated if new information becomes available.

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