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What you need to know for 01/17/2017

Backpack causes evacuations at Mohawk Commons

Backpack causes evacuations at Mohawk Commons

A state police bomb squad was called to Mohawk Commons and some stores were evacuated Thursday after

A state police bomb squad was called to Mohawk Commons and some stores were evacuated Thursday after a backpack was left outside a store.

The backpack turned out to be harmless, police said, but it was placed in almost the same spot as a backpack left by a man in early June that triggered a similar response. That backpack also turned out to contain nothing harmful,.

The early June case started a discussion about what should happen to those who leave behind such bags and unintentionally cause a bomb scare. The man who admitted in June to leaving the bag there as he went inside to shop was arrested on a felony charge and spent two weeks in jail before the charges were dropped after prosecutors concluded the case did not meet the threshold for a criminal charge.

In Thursday’s case, police said they are working to identify the person who left the bag and determine their intent.

“Right now, our primary goal is identifying who put the bag down in that location and what their intentions were in leaving the bag there,” Niskayuna police spokesman Lt. Michael Stevens said.

Stevens declined to rule out criminal charges in the case, saying that won’t be determined until the investigation is complete. But he noted an important difference between the two cases — in Thursday’s incident, no one came back to claim the bag, even 21⁄2 hours after it was left. In the earlier incident, where prosecutors determined there was no basis for the criminal charges police filed, the owner returned to claim the bag.

Thursday’s incident began just after 2 p.m. when police and the Stanford Heights Fire Department responded to a report of a suspicious package placed by a man in an area between the entrances of Target and Famous Footwear. Witnesses told police a man put down the package, later identified as a backpack, around 12:45 p.m. and walked away. Stevens said it was difficult to determine exactly what it was from a distance.

Police are reviewing surveillance footage from nearby stores as part of their investigation, Stevens said.

Niskayuna police then called in the state police bomb squad and began evacuating nearby stores. The bomb squad arrived and determined the package was a backpack and not a threat. The stores reopened after 90 minutes, around 3:30 p.m.

The scenario was similar to the one that unfolded June 3. In that incident, witnesses spotted a man placing the package and walking away. The man, 21-year-old Joshua D. Usher, later identified himself and claimed the bag as his. Police charged him with first-degree placing a false bomb or hazardous substance, a felony. A judge set bail at $11,000, and when he couldn’t post it, he was jailed.

Two weeks later, prosecutors dropped the charges and Usher was released. They found the case did not meet the requirements of the statute — there was no intent to cause alarm, and other than the bag’s placement, there was nothing that suggested it was a bomb, nor any statements by Usher to that effect. Usher told police he did not want to bring the bag into the store with him and left it outside.

Other local cases of unattended or suspicious bags have ended without incident, with no bomb found and no charges filed. Earlier this month, a bomb-sniffing dog was brought in to check a large envelope left outside the VA Primary Care Practice in Sheridan Plaza in Schenectady. That package also turned out to be harmless.

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