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Guard leaving post led to city-county building lockdown

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Detroit — A security guard stepping away from his post led to a security breach that forced the evacuation, lockdown and early closure of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center on Monday, said Sgt. Michael Woody of the Detroit Police Department.

Woody said the guard, working for the private security firm Securitas, which checks the bags of guests to the building, stepped away from his post to address a security issue posed by someone who'd just gone through the line.

The station in question is a three-man post, Woody said. 

After the first guard resolved the security issue, a second officer looked at the X-ray image and saw that someone was carrying a gun in their briefcase. But by the time he noticed, the man had grabbed his bag and hopped on an elevator.

An image released by Detroit Police today of a bag carried by a suspect that police believe was able to bring a gun into the City-County Building.

The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, otherwise known as the City-County Building, was locked down and later closed Monday as a result.

A man initially sought as a person of interest was cleared late Monday after police interviewed him in the office of his attorney. Said Woody in an email that went out Monday night: “At this time we are excluding this person from further investigation.”

Assistant Detroit Police Chief Steve Dolunt said officials from Detroit police and Securitas, which runs security in the building, will meet Tuesday to discuss the breach. He said the police response to the incident was “textbook.”

Sgt. Michael Woody said police would meet Tuesday with Securitas officials to “work out emergency plans.”

In July, uniformed Detroit police officers also will begin patrols of City Hall’s first floor and other floors, Woody said, adding that no uniformed police officers were assigned Monday to the first floor.

Securitas could not be reached for comment. Its website says it has branches in every state and is the “most locally focused security company in the United States” with “on-site, mobile and remote guarding” security systems.

In addition to the lapse in building security, Detroit police Chief James Craig said there was a “communication breach” between Securitas and law enforcement.

Robert Dunlap, deputy chief of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, said at least 15 minutes passed before sheriff’s deputies were notified of a gun passing through security. Dunlap said Securitas tried to locate the person of interest first.

Securitas provides security for the building, and Wayne County sheriff’s deputies provide additional security in courtrooms on the county side of the building, which is where the person of interest entered. The Detroit Police Department did not have officers on the city side of the building when the man first entered the building.

“There was a 45-minute delay in reporting to the city side (of the building) where there are Detroit police officers,” Craig said.

City and county law enforcement swept the building. Police gave the all-clear about 3 p.m. By that time, hundreds of judges, city council members, staff and visitors had been evacuated as the Detroit Police Department’s Special Response Team and K-9 unit searched floor-by-floor, Woody said.

“It wasn’t until they realized he might have a handgun that the suspect was already past the security checkpoint, got onto an elevator, and we’re not certain where,” said Craig, who called the event “a security failure.”

Craig said the gun could have been a revolver, but it’s “not conclusive.”

“What we’ve learned is that when the weapon was found, one, there was a delay to respond to it, and secondarily, law enforcement — Wayne County sheriffs and DPD — were not notified,” he said.

Craig said the delay in communications was an issue but also “an opportunity for us to grow.”

Melissa Thomas was with her grandson when they were evacuated.

“They had us locked in office areas and told us to stay there until further instructions,” Thomas said outside the building.

Jeff Kulman said he was on the 15th floor when people were told to leave.

It was “kind of scary with what’s been going on lately,” said Kulman, referring to the fatal shootings in Orlando, Florida last week.

Associated Press and staff writers Mark Hicks and James David Dickson contributed.