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Letter with white powder from inmate causes hazmat incident in Baltimore courthouse

Paramedics evaluated, transported three people to hospitals for additional testing as firefighters evacuated judges’ chambers

By Alex Mann
Baltimore Sun

BALTIMORE — People who were nearby when a Baltimore Circuit Court employee opened a letter containing white powder Monday afternoon were ordered to isolate and taken to hospitals, authorities said, as investigators continued to probe the package addressed from a Maryland inmate.

The Baltimore Sheriff’s Office locked down the second floor of the Elijah E. Cummings Courthouse, one of the city’s two circuit courthouses, around 2:40 p.m. after a court staffer said they opened a letter “addressed from an inmate from a state correctional facility” and found an “unknown white powder substance,” the agency said in a series of posts to the social media website X, formerly known as Twitter.

“These individuals were in an environment where this envelope was apparently detected. Out of precaution, they were evaluated by paramedics on the scene, and because of their proximity to the envelope, we felt it appropriate to have these individuals transported to area hospitals and evaluated prophylactically,” Baltimore Fire Department spokesperson Kevin Cartwright told The Baltimore Sun.

Of the three people’s conditions, Cartwright said, “they manifest no symptoms whatsoever.”

As of about 4:30 p.m., Cartwright said the agency’s hazardous materials, or “Hazmat,” team was working to identify the powder substance. Around the same time, the sheriff’s office added that fire officials were “advising there is no airborne threat and that any potential exposure is localized to the three individuals that are currently isolated.”

Firefighters evacuated the chambers of two judges in response to the discovery, according to an emergency notification sent by text message to court personnel around 3:05 p.m. Cartwright said officials believed that an employee opened the envelope in a judge’s chambers but could not specify which judge.

According to the emergency notification, which The Sun obtained, fire officials evacuated the offices of Judge Audrey J. S. Carrion, chief judge of the circuit court, whose chambers are in the Cummings Courthouse, and Judge Erik S. Atas, whose chambers are across the street in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

The sheriff’s office subsequently clarified in a social media post that the incident was isolated to the second floor of the Cummings Courthouse but urged the public to avoid the 100 block of North Calvert Street, which encompasses both courthouses.

According to the sheriff’s office, a host of agencies dedicated personnel for the investigation into the letter, including Baltimore Police, the U.S. Postal Service, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Detectives from the Intelligence and Investigative Division of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, which oversees all state prisons, were also assisting in the probe, department spokesperson Mark Vernarelli said in an email.

Courthouse personnel received another update around 4:20 p.m.

“All is clear with respect to the suspicious package reported,” the text message alert reads, adding that “as a precaution,” a courtroom and judge’s chambers were being “decontaminated.”

Shortly after 6 p.m., the sheriff’s office said the fire department was “scaling down operations” and that the second floor of the Cummings Courthouse was “contained.”

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