Suspicious package delivered to City Hall found to contain poster for Parking Division manager

Police Department evacuates building during City Commission public hearing on Sept. 6

At 2:21 p.m. on Sept. 6, amid a public hearing that the Sarasota City Commission was conducting, City Manager Marlon Brown announced that a suspicious package had been delivered to City Hall in downtown Sarasota, so everyone needed to evacuate the building.

Board members and others gathered up materials and left.

The Sarasota Police Department announced on Twitter that it had closed Second Street between Orange and Lemon avenues while the law enforcement response was underway. Drivers were asked to avoid the area.

The agency’s social media posts also noted that the department had sent its Explosive Materials Unit to City Hall.

Finally, at 4 p.m., most of the commissioners returned to the dais and Mayor Erik Arroyo resumed the meeting. One group participating in the hearing did have to await a security check of an attorney before testimony could continue.

On Sept. 7, in response to a Sarasota News Leader request, Genevieve Judge, the public information officer for the Sarasota Police Department, released a redacted copy of the report about the incident.

The person listed in that report as having notified law enforcement officers was Mark Lyons, manager of the city’s Parking Division.

The narrative says that officers were dispatched to City Hall — which stands at 1565 First St. in downtown Sarasota — at 2:01 p.m. on Sept. 6.

Upon their arrival, it continues, an officer spoke with Lyons, who explained that, as he was opening his mail, he saw a package from an address in a Los Angeles suburb.

When Lyons opened the package, the narrative continued, he found a cylinder of PVC pipe measuring 3 inches by 8 inches, “with two cap ends.”
The narrative added, “Lyons advised he could hear something inside of it but [was] not sure what it was. The pipe was white with no markings or lettering.”

The narrative noted that the return address appeared to be that of a gun range in California, “which raised further suspicions.” That address was 16468 Valley Blvd., La Puente, Calif., which is about 20 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, according to Wikipedia.

Sarasota Police officers with the Explosive Materials Unit recommended that staff exit the office area as a precaution, the narrative said. When officers learned more details, and they became aware that the City Commission meeting was in progress, they evacuated the remainder of the building, the narrative added.

After that was completed, the narrative continued, the Explosive Materials Unit responded to the scene. Sarasota County Fire Department personnel and several police officers maintained an outer perimeter of the building, keeping pedestrian and vehicle traffic away from it, the narrative said.

Inside the PVC pipe was a rolled-up poster with “small wall adhesive stickers,” the narrative explained. “Lyons was familiar with the poster as he already had another version of the same poster in his office,” the narrative noted. “It was unknown why the poster was mailed in a PVC pipe instead of cardboard,” the narrative said.

“Photographs were taken and entered into evidence,” the narrative pointed out.

After the members of the Explosive Materials Unit determined that the PVC device was not a threat, the narrative added, city staff was permitted to re-enter City Hall, and the officers outside opened the roadways and sidewalks.

A News Leader online search of the California return address on the package found that a number of businesses are located in a building at that location. Among them is Pentair, a bottled water supplier; Glowlite Inc., a safety equipment supplier; White Pearl LLC, a car dealer; and a company called Divine Décor Inc., which appears to deal in imports from China.

Lyons did not respond to a News Leader inquiry about the poster.