Police say bomb threat prompted caution

Updated: March 26, 2005, 4:49 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The threat of a bomb in Indiana's locker room delayed the start of the Pacers-Detroit Pistons game for 1 hour, 25 minutes Friday night.

Auburn Hills chief of police Doreen Olko said the switchboard at The Palace -- the site of the melee between the teams 18 weeks ago -- received a call about an hour before the scheduled start from an unknown subject with a very specific threat that there was a bomb in the locker room.

The game did not start on time because we had to make sure that everyone involved was at a comfort level that would allow them to start this game. That's what took so long.
Doreen Olko, Auburn Hills, Mich., chief of police

"The game did not start on time," Olko said, "because we had to make sure that everyone involved was at a comfort level that would allow them to start this game. That's what took so long.''

"Nothing was found," Olko said. "We are completely confident that the Pacer locker room and the entire building is safe. If not, we wouldn't be here."

Olko said police had searched the locker room with dogs on Friday morning, and security personnel was stationed at the door for the rest of the day.

"We never believed that the building was unsafe," Olko said.

Auburn Hills police searched the locker room again with dogs three hours prior to tipoff, Olko said, and then again after the threat was made.

"It obviously is a very serious matter," Olko said. "It would be a very, very serious crime."

Auburn Hills detectives were still investigating the threat Saturday.

"Detectives are working with Palace personnel and their phone provider in an attempt to identify the person who called in the threat," police Lt. James Manning said in a statement Saturday.

If identified, the caller could be charged with making a false bomb threat. Making a bomb threat is a felony and if convicted the person could be sentenced up to four years in prison. It is possible the caller may be charged under the antiterrorism act.

The Palace switchboard also received two more bomb threats at the end of the game. At this time it does not appear the calls were made by the same person. All of the calls are being investigated.

Also, there were no arrests made during the game. Alcohol sales ended when the third quarter started.

The building was not evacuated because Olko said the police department believed the building was safe and the threat was specific to an area in the building. Olko said it is a standard procedure to have dogs search backstage areas for high-profile events at the arena, which also hosts concerts and the WNBA's Detroit Shock.

The Pacers went on and off their bus about three times, according to their bus driver, and once left the loading dock and drove to a far end of the parking lot.

The Pistons had what they called "playoff-level security" in place for Indiana's first game at The Palace since the Nov. 19 brawl between the teams at the arena that spilled into the stands.

"On Nov. 19, it was one person," Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said after the Pacers' 94-81 victory Friday. "Tonight it was one person. You can't put that on a whole city."

Several Pacers told ESPN.com's Marc Stein after the game that there were actually two bomb threats.

Shortly before the scheduled 8:10 p.m. ET start, Palace officials told the fans that the game would be delayed "due to unforeseen circumstances." The arena was already nearly full, and fans were not evacuated. The crowd cheered when the big overhead TV screens were tuned into the Michigan State-Duke NCAA Tournament game at about 8:30 p.m. ET.

"I had no idea what the delay was. ... no one told us anything," said Keith Hinshaw of Rochester. "I'm glad they didn't [evacuate] -- it gave me a chance to see the Michigan State game."

A half-hour later, a Pistons official confirmed that the game at the Palace would be played. Tipoff took place at 9:35 p.m.

The crowd booed when the game, which Michigan State won, was turned off for the national anthem several minutes before the start of the game.

The Pacers' victory Friday night snapped the Pistons' 12-game home winning streak.

The last time the teams' played at The Palace on Nov. 19, a brawl broke out between Pacers players and fans in a 97-82 Pacers victory.

Officials stopped the game with 45.9 seconds remaining after pushing and shoving between the teams spilled into the stands and fans began throwing objects at the players near the scorer's table.

Pacers Ron Artest was suspended for the remainder of the season, Stephen Jackson served a 30-game suspension and Jermaine O'Neal served a 25-game suspension. Pistons center Ben Wallace missed six games.

Two subsequent games between the teams in Indiana took place without incident.

Information from ESPN.com senior writer Marc Stein, The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.

ALSO SEE