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Santa Clarita / Antelope Valley : Bomb Threat Leads to Illegal Guns : Courthouse: Ex-deputy held after claiming he had an explosive device. Weapons are found at his home.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former sheriff’s deputy, seized at the Newhall Municipal Courthouse when he claimed to have explosives in his briefcase, was later found to have numerous illegal weapons in his home, authorities said Thursday.

James Drummond Collet, 30, of Canyon Country was arrested Wednesday for “claiming to carry a destructive device,” said Deputy Greg LaVal of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. LaVal also said that prosecutors are determining what additional charges could be filed concerning the weapons and equipment--including sawed-off shotguns, more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition and devices that could transform semiautomatic weapons to automatic--found during a search of the suspect’s home.

The briefcase incident occurred Wednesday when Collet was at Newhall Municipal Court for a pretrial hearing on four misdemeanor charges of interfering with a business and one misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest. He had been arrested in March for allegedly threatening customers and employees during visits to a Santa Clarita car dealership. He had said he was unhappy with a truck he purchased there, court records show.

Mark Bock, a deputy at the Santa Clarita station who attended the county sheriff’s academy with Collet and helped arrest him at the dealership, said he was surprised by the erratic behavior.

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“He was kind of an easygoing, middle-of-the-road person who you never noticed,” Bock said. “I don’t know what happened to him.”

Deputies were waiting for Collet at the courthouse because he had been disruptive during a previous court appearance, LaVal said. The deputies asked to search his briefcase.

“He told us we shouldn’t open it because there were explosives inside,” LaVal said.

Collet was arrested and bomb squad deputies were summoned. The courthouse was not evacuated because it seemed unlikely the briefcase posed any immediate threat, LaVal said.

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The briefcase was taken out into the parking lot, where sheriff’s deputies fired detonation devices into it. Once opened, the case was found to contain only papers and a tape recorder, LaVal said.

Sheriff’s deputies then wanted to search his home. “We knew a little about his background and due to the events (at the courthouse), the judge agreed to let us do a search warrant at his house,” LaVal said. “We thought he could be a danger to the community.”

In a court document concerning the auto dealership incidents, Sheriff’s Deputy Tracy Palmer described Collet, who was on the force from April, 1986, to December, 1993, as “possibly mentally unstable.”

Sheriff’s officials declined to disclose the reason for Collet’s retirement in 1993, stating that the department’s personnel files are confidential. But Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Damon said Thursday that the retirement was apparently “stress-related.”

The search of Collet’s house resulted in the seizure of seven assault rifles, two sawed-off shotguns, three small semiautomatic carbines, 14 handguns and various other guns, LaVal said. Among the other items seized were nearly a dozen devices to convert semiautomatic guns into fully automatic weapons, a silencer and equipment to make additional silencers, LaVal said.

Most of the weapons appeared to be legal, but items such as the sawed-off shotguns and silencer equipment are not, said Bill Queen, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Queen was asked by Sheriff’s Department officials to examine the seized weapons. He said Thursday that possession of some of the items carries a mandatory 10-year federal prison sentence.


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