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April 15, 2014

Powder sent to Royal Oak Police Department was cornstarch

By Robert Guttersohn
C & G Staff Writer

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Hazardous materials personnel determined that a white powder sent to the Royal Oak Police Department was cornstarch. The powder caused a precautionary evacuation during the morning April 15.

What started as a hazardous materials scare inside the city’s Police Department early April 15 turned out to be a hoax.

The Royal Oak Police Department was evacuated at 8:30 a.m. after a detective opened an envelope that held a white, powdery substance.

At a press conference two hours after the evacuation, Police Chief Corey O’Donohue said that an Oakland County hazardous materials response team had determined that the substance was only cornstarch.

O’Donohue said that the letter, which contained the substance, was addressed specifically to the police detective who opened it.

After opening it, he said the detective and his partner — who share the same office — stood by while the Oakway hazmat team, made up of emergency personnel from various departments in Oakland County, tested the materials.

“Hazmat has a number of tests they can perform,” O’Donohue said. “They first eliminate any biological threat.”

The two men were not taken to the hospital, O’Donohue said.

Meanwhile, 25 people were evacuated from the Police Department building.

That number included two prisoners who were transferred to prisoner holding at 44th District Court.

In addition to police staff, city staff in the Planning and Information Systems departments — located on the upper floors of the police building — were evacuated.

While the Royal Oak Police Department’s dispatching services were out of commission, dispatching responsibilities were transferred to the Madison Heights Police Department.

“We have a system in place where we can transfer those calls to Madison Heights,” O’Donohue said. “Police and fire services throughout the community were uninterrupted.”

After the press conference, City Manager Don Johnson said that City Hall, which is attached to the police building, also was evacuated, but only briefly.

Johnson said the buildings do not share ventilation systems.

“They actually kicked everybody out of this building until they realized it was the (Planning Department) and (Informations Systems) they had to be concerned about,” Johnson said.

When the hazmat team determined the powdery substance was not a threat, officers were able to return to work.

O’Donohue said that with the scare now behind the department, it was time for the detective bureau to focus on finding the perpetrator.

“We wanted to mitigate the threat first,” he said. “Now, we move into the investigation.”

O’Donohue was not able to say whether there was a letter inside the envelope or describe letter itself.

Right now, he said the investigation into the matter is staying internal, but O’Donohue did talk with the regional office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“We have it handled up to now, but (for) any assistance with the investigation, I’m sure the FBI will give us a hand,” O’Donohue said.

Mayor Jim Ellison, who attended the press conference, lauded the Fire Department, Police Department and the Oakway team for their response.

“I was very proud of the way our people reacted, and the response,” Ellison said. “It was our guys doing what they do best.”

 

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Robert Guttersohn at rguttersohn@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5006.