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Officer Guilty of Anthrax Hoax Given Probation, Community Service

The Capitol Police officer convicted in November of making false statements in connection with a 2001 anthrax hoax was sentenced Tuesday morning to two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service.

Officer James Pickett, a 14-year veteran of the force, has already filed his notice of appeal. His sentence was suspended pending that outcome.

Although the conviction carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson stated his intent to give Pickett probation even before he heard from the prosecution and the defense.

“I am not going to send him to jail,” said Jackson.

That declaration — which was made after Jackson said the case “had been as difficult for me as it has been for the probation officer as I am sure it has been for [Pickett]” — set the boundaries for the rest of the hearing. U.S. Attorney Angela Schmidt later said the prosecution never intended to seek jail time.

When asked by the judge if he’d like to make a statement, Pickett expressed remorse. “I’d just like to say I’m sorry to you [Jackson], the government, the probation officer involved in this and my family,” he said.

Defense attorney Eli Gottesdiener told the judge that Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said Pickett’s employment will be terminated, “the appeal notwithstanding.” Gottesdiener said he did not know whether the suspended sentence would affect Gainer’s decision.

A spokeswoman for the Capitol Police said a disciplinary review board hearing will be held to determine any action on Pickett’s status.

In November 2002, a D.C. jury found Pickett guilty of the more serious of the two counts he faced for a Nov. 7, 2001, incident in which he left a note and a white, powdery substance at his post in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel. The note read: “Please inhale. Yes this could be? Call your doctor for flu symptoms. This is a Capitol Police training exercize! I hope you pass!”

After the hearing Gottesdiener said that his client meant no harm with the note, which he made as a joke between himself and a fellow officer. “It was a momentary lapse in judgement made without malice” at a time when officers were working 17-hour shifts and were not being trained adequately to deal with anthrax, he said.

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