As a crowd filed into City Hall last Wednesday for a fiery Metro Council meeting headlined by hours of debate regarding the proposed “fairness ordinance,” a vastly different and unrelated conflict unfolded in another part of the building: the threat of a mass shooting.
Most of the people inside the council chambers that day were unaware of the threat made to an assistant parish attorney regarding a matter that had no ties to the meeting. And by the time the meeting commenced, the threat was neutralized by an arrest, and a search of the suspect’s vehicle did not turn up any weapons, said Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., a Baton Rouge police spokesman.
But from 2:30 p.m. — when police say Sheryl E. Morrison, of Baton Rouge, called an assistant parish attorney and threatened to “go Columbine” — until police located and arrested Morrison at her home just minutes before the meeting began at 4 p.m., the threat was real. Meanwhile, dozens of people filled the council chambers to reserve seats for what became one of the most contentious and well-attended meetings of the year.
Metro Councilman Chandler Loupe, the council’s mayor pro tem, or acting president, said he didn’t know a threat had been made until he was contacted by a reporter about the incident on Monday.
“I was not aware of the threat or arrest and certainly do not like to learn of these issues from The Advocate,” Loupe said. In response, Loupe plans to speak “with the appropriate offices involved,” he said.
According to the Baton Rouge Police Department, Morrison, 55, called Vicky Jones, the attorney, about 2:30 p.m. and threatened to shoot her. Morrison told the attorney she would come to City Hall “and go Columbine,” referencing the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 15 people dead, including the two students who committed suicide after fatally shooting 13 other people inside the school.
“I took her to be very serious,” Jones said.
When Jones asked Morrison to clarify her statement, Morrison said “she had her car and stuff ready,” according to a probable cause affidavit detailing the arrest. The affidavit includes the detail about Morrison threatening to come to City Hall to carry out the shooting.
Morrison, 55, sued the city-parish several years ago following a traffic accident. Recently, Morrison became increasingly angry with Jones, culminating Wednesday in the shooting threat, Jones said.
“She actually said she was going to shoot me,” Jones said.
Jones said she does not recall Morrison specifically stating she would come to City Hall to carry out the threat, but Jones was at City Hall when she received the call.
“She was going to start with me,” Jones said.
After the conversation ended, Jones notified police about the call, then left for a federal court hearing down the street. Meantime, the Parish Attorney’s Office took precautions.
“We perceived it to be a real threat,” Mary Roper, the parish attorney, said in a statement. Roper provided a photograph of Morrison to the Mayor-President’s Office “so that security would be apprised of the situation in order to properly protect persons on the third floor,” she said.
The attorneys also locked themselves inside the office, posting a note on the door instructing visitors to knock for entrance while the threat remained a concern.
“Once we received notice that Ms. Morrison had been apprehended, I notified the Mayor’s Office and we unlocked our front door,” Roper said.
Jones said she was inside the federal courthouse throughout the ordeal.
Coppola, the police spokesman, said responding officers and the Parish Attorney’s Office together decided not to excite panic by ordering a building evacuation. When officers located Morrison at her Blount Road home, they did not find anything to indicate she was prepared to execute a mass shooting, he said.
“They looked inside the vehicle,” Coppola said. “There were no weapons observed.”
William Daniel, chief administrative officer to the Mayor-President’s Office, said he wasn’t made aware of the incident until after Morrison was arrested.
“My understanding was she alleged it in a very specific way,” Daniel said, “and the threat was dealt with very professionally.” Daniel said, to his knowledge, the threat was specifically directed at the Parish Attorney’s Office and that law enforcement did not expect her to come to the council chambers.
The Metro Council that evening was considering an ordinance that would ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity — a hot-button and emotional issue that drew a standing-room-only crowd, including some of the most well-known business executives and law enforcement leaders in the parish. The ordinance did not come up for a vote before the meeting ended, by law, at 8:30 p.m.
Morrison on Wednesday night remained jailed at the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison on counts of terrorizing and improper telephone communication. Her bail was set at $30,000.
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