Courts & Crime

Truck with explosives found near Kansas Capitol; Gov. Brownback threatened

An early-morning parking complaint led authorities to a pickup truck with homemade explosives across the street from the Kansas Capitol on Wednesday.

The truck's discovery was the first in a day of unusual events at the statehouse that included threats made to the governor's office and hundreds gathering on the steps of the Capitol to protest policies advocated by Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Authorities detained a suspect driving the truck. They also arrested a Columbia, Mo., man and charged him with making harassing calls to the governor’s office.

Patrick Saleh, spokesman for the Capitol Police, said the three events were unrelated.

“Everything seems to be independent of each other. It just occurred on the same day by happenstance,” Saleh said.

The most potentially threatening situation was discovered by a state worker who was upset about where an unpermitted truck with a Florida plate was parked.

The truck was parked in state Lot No. 1 next to the Kansas Judicial Center, which houses the state Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

Police responded to the complaint and saw an empty holster inside. The black Ford pickup was dotted with decals including one with Uncle Sam that read: “Welcome to America. Now Speak English.”

Alarmed by what they found, police called in a bomb squad, which sent in a robotic device that found the homemade explosives. Details about the explosives were not available Wednesday evening

Police tracked down the driver in an underground tunnel that connects the Capitol to a state office building across the street. They found him by using his license plate number to get a photo, which was distributed to police at the Capitol.

The man, dressed in business attire, told police he was at the Capitol on state business. They detained the man and were questioning him late Wednesday. The man’s name was not released. Police were not sure where he was headed.

His arrest came hours before hundreds of people led a boisterous rally in front of the Capitol that targeted Kobach’s efforts to crack down on undocumented immigrants.

As the rally took place, Kobach was testifying in front of a House committee considering bills intended to curb illegal immigration.

Shortly after the pickup was found, the governor’s staff reported receiving at least two threatening calls from a man staying at a Motel 6 along a commercial strip on the west side of Topeka.

“They were mad rants of anger directed at the governor,” Saleh said.

Police arrested Steven J. Thibodeau of Columbia and booked him at the Shawnee County Jail on a charge of harassment by telephone.

Thibodeau claimed to have been moving to Salina, but police could not confirm an address for him there.

Saleh said the governor and the judges have their own security details. Those details have been notified and will take action as needed, he said.

The spokeswoman for the governor said Brownback had “a typical day” of meetings and speaking events. On Wednesday afternoon, he had a news conference to discuss wind energy.

She said the day was so busy that she didn’t discuss the day’s events with the governor.

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