Several hundred people in the federal courthouse downtown were held hostage for about an hour -- by a harmless television set.
About 2:45 p.m. yesterday, U.S. marshals and court-security officers cleared the building's lobby, first-floor offices and front hallways, near walls of windows, after a man left the TV on the front steps and told a clerk on the fourth floor that he wanted Judge Norman P. Ramsey to get the set fixed for him.
Lisa White, the clerk, identified the man as a disabled Social Security recipient who frequents the courthouse. She said he has been a plaintiff in several civil cases, and once won a $36,000 Social Security disability settlement in one of his cases.
White called security officers to tell them that the TV set was on the front steps.
A court security officer called the Baltimore Police Department bomb squad. Within minutes, a full-fledged bomb scare was under way.
Police and marshals alerted the chief judge and blocked off the front sidewalk and South Hanover Street beside the courthouse. Inside, bystanders in the lobby and first-floor offices were evacuated into the cafeteria as bomb squad officers peered into the TV set with a flashlight.
A trained dog sniffed the offending brown box for explosives but turned away without alerting to a threat.
Finally, employing a winch and several ropes, the officers dragged the set across the brick sidewalk to a bomb-disposal trailer and took it away to a detonation site.
"Oh, that's hysterical," White laughed, when she was told the bomb squad had been called. "He's not a threat to anybody," she said of the man who had taken the TV to the courthouse.
"These days, you have to be careful," said William H. Kammer 3rd, chief deputy U.S. marshal here. "If nothing else, it's a good drill" for the courthouse security team.