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Woman won't face charges for scare at Hillsborough County courthouse

TAMPA — The woman whose gun-shaped lighter prompted an evacuation at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse last week did not break the law, the sheriff's office said.

Col. Jim Previtera said Howronda Overstreet, 31, of Brandon, strolled through security Aug. 5 with the lighter in her purse and did not intend to use it illegally.

"The mere possession of it didn't constitute any crime," he said.

Discipline for a screener who was distracted and missed the security breach has not been determined, county spokesman Willie Puz said, nor has a time frame been set for when that might be decided.

It is unclear what brought her to the courthouse that day. Previtera previously said Overstreet told detectives she had taken the lighter away from her nephew.

About 8:45 a.m., an item appearing to be a gun showed up on an X-ray screen, but the security officer was looking away. By the time he realized what had happened, Overstreet had entered the building. Security looked for her, to no avail.

"Normally that type of contraband we would not allow into the courthouse," Previtera said. "People would react and believe it was real."

About two hours after Overstreet passed through security, the screeners notified the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. Deputies evacuated the building's 3,200 occupants around noon.

Puz said the county will implement training for its security officers on how to review old images from the X-ray machines. He said the officers were slow to retrieve an image of the gun-shaped object, causing part of the delay.

"Protocols were there," Puz said. "They weren't followed as well as they should have."

A time frame for the training has also not been set.

Previtera said his deputies followed procedure, and the scare will not alter their practices.

"They, of course, were thrown off by the delay in receiving the information, but once it became clear to them there was an issue at hand, they did what they should have," he said.

Staff writer Steven Overly can be reached at soverly@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3435.

Woman won't face charges for scare at Hillsborough County courthouse 08/12/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 12, 2009 6:07pm]
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