No charges filed for nearly operable bomb

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No bomb charges were able to be filed against a 19-year-old whose vehicle trunk contained a nearly operable explosive device, which was discovered by Blaine officers in late December while executing a drug-related search warrant.

On December 24 at about 9:30 a.m., two Blaine police officers executed a search warrant on a vehicle for the purpose of recovering marijuana and related paraphernalia. The vehicle, a black 1990 Honda Accord owned by 19-year-old Charles Daniel Padilla, was being stored in the Blaine Police Department’s secure vehicle evidence bay on H Street. During the course of the search, one of the officers discovered what appeared to be an improvised explosive device, or IED, in the trunk of the vehicle.

The device consisted of a large rectangular black and silver case, a key and keyhole, a D battery and a dark, unknown liquid substance in a water bottle, all connected with complex wiring. Following its discovery, the police department was evacuated, a Washington State Patrol (WSP) bomb squad was called in and the FBI was contacted. To protect the public, the entire area was sealed off with police tape.

“Upon arrival, WSP Bomb Squad scanned the device and made sure it was inoperable,” said the police report. “The fluid in the canister was not an accelerant or explosive. They advised that the device was wired in such a way that it was only missing a small component and an actual combustible.”

Because the device was not fully functional, Padilla was unable to be charged under state law. “The reason no charges were filed regarding Mr. Padilla and the explosive device is that the WSP bomb squad said the device was not operable due to the missing component,” said a Blaine Police Department (BPD) spokesperson. “If the device didn’t have the ability to explode, no charges could be filed.”

The most closely related state law is RCW 70.74.180, which states: “Any person who has in his or her possession or control any shell, bomb, or similar device, charged or filled with one or more explosives, intending to use it or cause it to be used for an unlawful purpose, is guilty of a class A felony, and upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment in a state prison for a term of not more than twenty years.” It is possible that federal laws could also apply.

While BPD contacted the FBI field office in Bellingham in response to the incident, a Seattle-based FBI spokesperson said that the FBI did not end up opening a case on Padilla. While the FBI generally does not confirm or deny its investigations, the spokesperson said that the agency was only “peripherally” involved on the day of the incident, and that the agency did not subsequently open an investigation. “It’s not an FBI thing,” said the FBI spokesperson.

“Just carrying an incendiary device doesn’t mean that the FBI will take the case,” added the spokesperson, who said that the FBI would normally get involved if there was evidence of a serious criminal or terrorism-related motive. The FBI spokesperson did not rule out the possibility of another agency, such as WSP or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), pursuing the matter further.

Besides the potential IED, the search of Padilla’s vehicle turned up “numerous” bags of suspected marijuana, bong stems and drug paraphernalia, as well as concentrated THC, brass knuckles, knives, a realistic-looking airsoft BB gun with CO2 cartridges and multiple empty bottles of alcohol. Padilla has already been to court for the drug charges which were the original reason for the search warrant.

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