Officials prepare to reopen Cumberland County Courthouse after it was evacuated briefly Thursday after a bomb threat was emailed. Portland police officer Stacey Brooker leads Alfie, a 5-year-old springer spaniel police dog, back to their squad car after clearing the building. Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald

AUGUSTA — Courthouses in Augusta and Portland were briefly evacuated and then reopened Thursday morning after some employees received a hoax email claiming that bombs had been planted at judicial centers in Maine.

The precautionary courthouse evacuations came a day after Maine’s State House and several others across the country were targeted with false bomb threats.

Authorities said the bomb threats involving the State House and Maine courts were sent by the same group.

“We have been in touch with our state and federal partners and believe this may be related to the threats that were called into several state capitol buildings around the country yesterday,” Mark Dubois, chief of the Portland Police Department, said in a statement Thursday.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows received a similar threat over the weekend when someone called police to falsely report a break-in at her home in Manchester.

The string of incidents raise the question of whether government can do its business amid so many threats and interruptions, and it’s upsetting lawmakers.


“I am very angry that someone is using fear as a tactic to disrupt necessary government functions,” said Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, the Senate’s assistant minority leader.

The Legislature’s presiding officers — Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook, and Speaker of the House Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland — issued a statement Thursday saying they took “threats to the safety and well-being of the people who work in and show up to the State House very seriously” and were grateful Capitol Security could clear the building and determine that the threat was a hoax.

“These threats appear to be part of a concerning and unacceptable trend. Those that perpetrate these hoaxes are engaging in behavior that cannot become commonplace and must be held accountable. But make no mistake, the Legislature can and will continue to conduct business and serve the people of Maine,” Jackson and Talbot Ross said in the statement. “Meanwhile, our offices will continue to work with Capitol Police and the Executive Director’s Office to review the security policies and evacuation protocols in place to ensure the State House remains a safe and welcoming place for anyone who walks through its doors. We will be vigilant and continuously adapt our policies to guarantee the essential work of government is uninterrupted.”

House Majority Leader Maureen Fitzgerald Terry, D-Gorham, said in a statement that the bomb threats Wednesday and Thursday were “just the latest incidents in an extremely concerning trend of escalating threats and attacks on public officials and governing bodies across the country.”

“We cannot allow ourselves to normalize this political violence, which threatens the democratic processes that are the foundation on which our country is built,” Terry said. “It saddens me that instead of engaging in these democratic processes, some are resorting to fear and violence to express their opinions.”

Rep. Amy Arata, R-New Gloucester, the House assistant minority leader, said she’s concerned “more threats are being made in an attempt to intimidate public servants and thwart governmental processes.”


“A case in point are the vulgar and harassing phone calls that Rep. Katrina Smith has received, in addition to those received by the Secretary of State. However, based on the mood I observed at the State House yesterday, these tactics are not working. Legislators were calm and eager to get back to work,” Arata said. “We were able to conduct business during the COVID shutdown and we will find a way to adapt and continue to do our jobs regardless of the threat.”

Arata said she had a good conversation Wednesday night with House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, “and she is eager to work with staff to develop protocols and procedures for dealing with future threats of this type.”

Terry said lawmakers are committed to enhancing safety procedures, including the creation of an improved, detailed active threat protocol, because “we can and will complete the important work this session that the people of Maine sent us here to do.”

Barbara Cardone, director of Legal Affairs and Public Relations for the Maine Judicial Branch, said in a statement that the email threats did not identify any specific location. Judicial Marshals contacted the Maine Information Analysis Center, managed by Maine State Police, which noted “the same group sent a similar email regarding explosives in the Maine State House” on the previous day, Wednesday, according to Cardone.

“Although initial indications pointed to a hoax, the Judicial Branch took the necessary precautions, depending on the location, to ensure that the public was not in danger,” Cardone said.

The Capital Judicial Center in Augusta was evacuated around 10:30 a.m. and reopened by 11:11 a.m., and Portland’s Cumberland County Courthouse was evacuated around 10:15 a.m. and reopened at 11:30 a.m. Portland police brought in its explosive canine units to sweep the building and found nothing, according to Dubois, the city’s chief.


While both the Cumberland County Courthouse and Capital Judicial Center were evacuated and searched before reopening after about an hour, the York Judicial Center in Biddeford was closed for the day for searching and was scheduled to reopen Friday, Cardone said.

“No explosives were found in any courthouse location,” Cardone said. “The Maine Judicial Branch wants the public to feel safe while in a Judicial Branch facility. Should we experience another similar threat, we will take all precautions necessary to protect public safety. We will also continue to work with the Maine State Police and other law enforcement agencies to catch the perpetrators responsible for the threats.”

Officers seen in the distance patrol the outside of the Capital Judicial Center in Augusta Thursday morning after the building was evacuated because of a bomb threat. A court spokesperson said another bomb threat was directed at the Cumberland County Courthouse, and both threats were believed to be hoaxes. Dylan Tusinski/Morning Sentinel

Outside the judicial center in Augusta Thursday, Maine State Troopers could be seen patrolling the grounds while a group of evacuees were whisked away from the building.

Kennebec County Administrator Scott Ferguson said the public was evacuated from the adjacent Kennebec County Courthouse and that building was searched as well.

Jury selection was underway at Augusta’s Capital Judicial Center on Thursday morning when the evacuation was ordered.

The State House incident on Wednesday came as nearly two-dozen other states fielded similar bomb hoaxes, and hours after hundreds of people had rallied at the building to call for stricter gun laws. The threats against Bellows came in the days following her decision to bar Donald Trump from Maine’s presidential primary ballot.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Jessica Lowell contributed to this report. 

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.