Torrance courthouse security officer Sam Quynh Tom thought the man who strolled into the building's law library Wednesday afternoon wearing a bulletproof vest and hunting jacket looked a little odd.
So when a library patron told Tom that the man was "acting weird," Tom politely asked to see what was inside the man's zippered nylon briefcase.
It turned out to be nearly $430,000 in cash and an Austrian-made Glock .45-caliber handgun, loaded with hollow-point bullets, police said.
"Oh, yes, I was scared," said Tom, a nine-year veteran of the South Vietnamese army who was wounded three times in combat. "I've been shot before, but if I got shot with that gun, that's it. That's the end."
Robert A. Lens, 43, was booked at the Torrance Police Department on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon and carrying a loaded gun inside a courthouse. Police plan to seek misdemeanor charges against him.
Lens was released Thursday morning on his own recognizance after detectives confirmed that the cash was part of a legal settlement given him because of injuries he had suffered in a traffic accident.
Detectives said they were not sure why Lens did not have the money in a bank, but Torrance Police Sgt. Ron Traber said Lens apparently had previously had a large amount of money embezzled from him and wanted to personally protect what was left.
The recent rioting prompted him to begin carrying the gun and wearing the bulletproof vest, he told officers.
Tom, an employee of Inter-Con Security Services, did not know all that when he asked to inspect Lens' briefcase.
"He opened the zipper and he put his hand inside and he said, 'I have valuable things inside. I can't let anybody see it,' " Tom said.
As Lens fished around inside the briefcase, Tom made a motion toward his own gun and ordered Lens to remove his hand from the case.
Startled, Lens picked up his briefcase and rushed from the library. Tom followed, alerting officers in the marshal's office as Lens fled. Lens was arrested in the courthouse parking lot after a brief struggle, police said.