State Security Kept in Dark During Conn. Courthouse Bomb Threat

Connecticut homeland security officials went more than two hours Friday without knowing that a series of bomb threats had forced the evacuation and shutdown of the state’s 45 courthouses, authorities acknowledged Monday.

Neither police nor Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office, which received one of the bomb threats at 10 a.m., had informed the security agency by noon, leaving top officials to learn about the first-of-its-kind evacuation from reporters.

“We know we have to work very closely together and we’re hoping the situation we experienced Friday won’t be replicated,” James Thomas, commissioner of the Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said Monday.

Investigators believe the bomb threat was a hoax designed to disrupt court business. State police in Colchester were questioning someone they described as a “person of interest” Monday, but spokesman Sgt. J. Paul Vance said no arrests had been made.

Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle said Friday’s threat fell between the cracks because it was more than a routine scare but did not rise to level of a statewide emergency.

“We’re going to come up with a system, either by blast fax or e-mail, that will notify all state agencies when something like this arises,” Boyle said. “When we have information that’s important to get out statewide, but that isn’t an emergency, we need a better way.”

Had a bomb exploded, Thomas would have been in charge of coordinating the response to an attack he had no information about. He and Boyle spoke Monday and agreed that the system must be improved.

The bomb threat was one of the first tests of Rell’s homeland security communications. The Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security was formed in part to improve communication between agencies.

Rell’s spokesman, Judd Everhart, said Thomas should have been notified but he had no immediate response to why nobody in Rell’s office made the call.

“The governor has directed Commissioner Boyle to tighten the communications plan among state agencies so there is better and faster communication in an emergency,” Everhart said.

New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, who is vying for his party’s nomination in next year’s gubernatorial race, immediately seized on the misstep. He said Rell is too quick to blame her commissioners for her administration’s problems.

“You can’t separate the governor’s office from the homeland security team from the first responders. They have to be one and the same,” DeStefano said. “In two hours, the World Trade Centers were hit and came down. That’s what can happen in 120 minutes. In New York it was 3,000 people’s lifetimes.”

Boyle said homeland security officials were not immediately informed because the threat was not specific. Investigators couldn’t determine its credibility, he said, and there was no indication of terrorism.

But if it was important enough to evacuate the judicial system, Thomas should have been called, Boyle said. He said local police have also complained that they were not notified. Local police will be included in any new statewide communication system, Boyle said.

While Thomas said he should have known about the threat earlier, he said State Police did the right thing by clearing the courthouses immediately.

“If I’m not notified until after everyone is safe and secure, that’s OK,” Thomas said.

Chief State’s Attorney Christopher Morano, whose prosecutors were working throughout the judicial system, echoed that Monday.

“I believe the State Police did an admirable job making contact with judicial officials, with my office and the people on the front lines being exposed,” Morano said. “I think they also did a great job investigating immediately. Every time you have an incident you can learn from it, but I’d leave it to them.”

After police monitored courthouses over the weekend and reported no problems, courts opened as usual Monday. Courts in New Britain and Bristol were briefly evacuated after police received another threat Monday morning.

Police were investigating whether the same person made both threats both Friday and Monday.