Officials Probe Link Between Colorado Arrests, Possible Obama Threat

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 26, 2008

DENVER, Aug. 25 -- Law enforcement authorities are investigating a possible threat against Sen. Barack Obama in connection with the arrests on Sunday of three men suspected of firearms and drugs violations in the Denver suburbs. One arrest followed a dawn raid on a hotel that involved a suspect leaping through the window of his sixth-floor room while trying to flee local police.

The police chief in Glendale, Colo., where the hotel is located, said information uncovered in the course of his department's investigation led to the case being turned over to the Secret Service, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"Everything was turned over to the feds," said the chief, Victor Ross.

Ross declined to explain what led his department to call in the Secret Service, but he said a drug or weapons arrest would not usually result in involvement by the agency, which has protected Obama since the early days of his presidential campaign in 2007. Concern about his safety -- he is the first African American to clinch a major-party presidential nomination -- resulted in Secret Service protection far earlier than most candidates have received.

Federal authorities declined to comment Monday. They said a news conference was planned Tuesday at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Denver to explain the nature of the case and its potential connection to Obama, who will accept the Democratic nomination for president at a large outdoor event on Thursday evening.

The men were arrested on suspicion of possession of illegal drugs and weapons, and for outstanding warrants for crimes that include a carjacking.

No charges have been filed, as authorities were still investigating to determine the seriousness of the threat, according to Ross and another law enforcement official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. Both officials said investigators were trying to determine whether the men posed a serious threat.

Obama's campaign declined to comment.

Ross said his officers were contacted by local police agencies after a traffic stop in the Denver suburb of Aurora -- which turned up two rifles, one with a scope, a bulletproof vest and suspected drugs -- and a raid by federal and local officers on a motel in Denver. Both provided information that a suspect staying in the Cherry Creek Hotel in Glendale was allegedly connected to two men taken into custody.

The Cherry Creek is one of the many hotels hosting delegates and media in town for the Democratic National Convention. Ed O'Keefe, a washingtonpost.com reporter who was staying in the room next to the suspect apprehended there, said he saw at least two uniformed officers and one undercover officer on the hotel floor at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, in the middle of the raid.

One officer said they were conducting an "elevator inspection," O'Keefe said. "Moments later, that same plain-clothed officer ran out the front door of the hotel with a weapon drawn. He motioned to me as I was leaving the hotel in a car to hurry up as he continued running towards the side of the building."

When officers knocked on the hotel door, they "heard a toilet flushing and a window break," Ross said. "Our guy jumped out the window. He broke his ankle. He went to the hospital."

Ross said that suspect had made "no credible threats."

Lt. Sam McGhee of the Aurora police said the three suspects being held are Tharin Robert Gartrell, 28, who was driving the car in Aurora; Nathan Johnson, who was arrested at the Denver motel; and Shawn Robert Adolf, 33, who was arrested at the suburban hotel.

All three men have last known addresses in Colorado.

In an apparently unrelated incident, Secret Service agents on Sunday arrested a man who carried a bag containing two rifles and two handguns into a downtown hotel where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other prominent officials are staying. The man, Joseph Calanchini of Wyoming, was charged with carrying a weapon without a permit.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company