TUSD safety officers apprehended, then released smoke bomb suspect

Protesters don masks after someone set off a smoke bomb in the meeting room.

TUSD safety officers apprehended, then released smoke bomb suspect

CREATED Apr 12, 2012

Editor's note:  TUSD now disputes TPD's statement.  An updated version of this story can be found here.

Reporter:  Forrest Carr

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - The Tucson Police Department confirms that on Tuesday night, TUSD safety officers detained a suspect believed to have set off a smoke bomb during a board meeting, but let him go.

Smoke erupted in the board room immediately following a contentious board vote to ax Sean Arce, who was the director of the Tucson Unified School District's now-suspended Mexican American studies program.  As soon as the smoke erupted, several protesters immediately put on masks.

TPD Lt. Fabian Pacheco confirmed to KGUN9 News that on Thursday, TPD investigators obtained the identity of the suspected culprit from school officials.  According to Pacheco, on Tuesday night safety officers grabbed the suspect, but made the decision to release him.  Pacheco explained, "They knew who he was.  They had had him identified.  But in order to calm things down and defuse the situaion, they released him."

KGUN9 video shot that night shortly after the smoke bomb went off captured several people in uniform surrounding someone outside the building, at which point the crowd began chanting, "Let him go!"  It's not clear whether the person surrounded was the suspected smoke bomber.

In any case, the decision to defuse the situation by releasing the suspect worked.  The crowd dispersed peacefully after the incident.

Pacheco emphasized that TPD's role in security that night was simply to provide backup to TUSD's own safety officers.  He told KGUN9 News that about 35 TPD officers were on hand nearby, outside the meeting room.  But Pacheco said only TUSD safety officers -- no TPD officers -- were inside.

Yesterday TUSD indicated that it does intend to prosecute the suspected bomber and is working with TPD toward that end. 

Pacheco confirmed that TPD detectives are investigating.  He declined to release the name of the suspect.