Snake Found in Md. Courthouse

Monday, September 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

UPPER MARLBORO, Md. (AP) — Authorities are trying to determine how a poisonous snake wound up in a third-floor hallway of the Prince George's County courthouse outside the prosecutor's office.

``We're consulting a reptile expert,'' Sgt. William Ament, spokesman for the county sheriff's department, said Monday. ``In the 26 years that I've been here we've never had a snake in the building.'' The 24-inch copperhead was found Friday.

Maryland State's Attorney Jack Johnson was not amused. He has been at odds with members of the county police department in recent months because of his outspoken comments about aggressive use of force by police officers.

``It's obviously an attempt to intimidate me,'' Johnson told The Washington Post. But he declined to place blame.

Earlier this month, Johnson announced the indictment of Officer Brian C. Catlett on charges of voluntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in the death of Gary Hopkins. The 19-year-old Hopkins was shot Nov. 27, 1999, following a dance at a fire hall.

Sneaking a snake into the courthouse would not be easy. The building has metal detectors at all public entrances, and only lawyers are allowed to bring cellular telephones and pagers into the complex. Private security guards, bailiffs and uniformed sheriff's deputies are constantly on watch for weapons and other potential threats to the judges, attorneys, witnesses, and defendants who use the building.

While copperheads are indigenous to Maryland, they are commonly found in wooded or swampy areas, and not inside brick and granite courthouses.

Sheriff's deputies tried to capture the copperhead by holding it down with the blade of a shovel laid across the animal's scaly back.

``It was apparently too heavy and we wound up with a dead snake,'' said Ament.