Bomb Squad Detonates Package Outside Scientology Building

The Tampa Tribune/March 13, 2008

St. Petersburg - On the birthday of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, church officials reported a bomb threat and had a bomb squad detonate a suspicious package outside their downtown building.

A security guard at the Life Improvement Center, 336 1st Avenue N., called police about 12:30 p.m. and reported finding a suitcase in an alley behind the building. He told police he had not seen the suitcase when he checked the alley earlier, according to a news release from the St. Petersburg Police Department.

Scientology officials were already on guard for suspicious packages, spokesman Pat Harney said, because the church has received several phone and Internet threats recently. Today's message implied that a bomb had been sent to one of the local Scientology buildings, he said.

Police in St. Petersburg closed local streets to traffic and called in a Tampa Police Department bomb squad to examine the suitcase, spokesman Bill Proffitt said.

The squad used a robot to examine the package and eventually blew it up just after 5 p.m. Proffitt said it contained a Bible, clothing and personal items.

One person was arrested at the scene and charged with obstructing a police officer after attempting to walk through an area that police had closed to traffic, according to the news release.

Police reopened the streets about 5:45 p.m.

The report of the suspicious package came this afternoon at about the same time Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge W. Douglas Baird denied an injunction the church sought to stop the Internet-based group Anonymous from protesting outside Scientology's headquarters in Clearwater this weekend.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Linda R. Allan denied a similar request Thursday.

In the case Allan ruled on, the church was using a process usually used by women who are in fear of their abusive husbands or boyfriends. The church wanted all protestors to remain at least 500 feet away from church structures and officials.

Allan noted that the Church of Scientology is a corporation, not a person, and that the process the church's attorneys were seeking to stop the protesters is by law reserved for a "person who is the victim of repeat violence," according to a copy of her ruling.

The church's tact with Judge Baird was slightly different.

The bulk of the second petition was the same as the one Allan reviewed - alluding to threatening anonymous YouTube videos, for instance. But this time Scientology attorneys said the protestors, by standing at the entrances of church buildings, would "chill" church events and services, causing Scientologists not to attend. This, the church said, constituted a violation of church members' Constitutional rights.

Baird noted there was no evidence the 26 individuals named as members of Anonymous in the church's petition were responsible for any threats or wrongful acts against the church. And they hadn't been informed properly of the injunction the church was seeking.

"Under these circumstances, when threats from unknown individuals are received, or when incidents such as the various YouTube or MySpace postings are interpreted as threatening, the matter is more properly one for local law enforcement rather than the constitutionally extreme remedy sought by injunction without notice against these individuals," his ruling said. producer Laura Fiorilli-Crews contributed to this story.

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