PORTLAND – A section of downtown Portland was shut down for close to four hours Friday as police investigated a suspicious bag at the federal courthouse that turned out to contain old clothes and a cell phone charger.

A backpack, and a small duffle bag that may have fallen out of it, were found behind a bush near the entrance to U.S. District Court at Federal and Market streets.

Portland Police Chief James Craig said the backpack was most likely left there by a homeless person who wanted it out of sight so it would not be taken.

It was discovered at 9:40 a.m. Police closed down nearby roads and evacuated the courthouse while the police bomb squad investigated. They reopened the roads shortly before 2 p.m.

The incident coincided with a national alert about suspicious devices on airplanes, and was at one point included in national reports about suspicious packages.

Craig said police were aware of the other incidents being investigated, but that did not influence their response.

A few business owners in the area complained to police because car and foot traffic were limited in the area.

“Certainly we did not take it lightly,” Craig said. “What if this had been an actual (explosive) device?”

Police used a remote-controlled robot to examine the backpack. The bomb squad, including specialists in protective clothing, then used an X-ray device to take pictures of the bag’s contents to determine whether there was a threat.

U.S. Marshal Noel March said such devices must be taken seriously because the federal courthouse represents the U.S. government and because so many highly charged civil and criminal matters come before the court.


Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]