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Update: ETSU building evacuated, 4 charged

Rex Barber • May 20, 2013 at 2:07 PM

Students at an East Tennessee State University apartment building were evacuated early Sunday morning after a drug investigation led to the discovery of propane canisters, fertilizers and other powders and liquids in a student’s apartment, which prompted a search that turned up a non-active pressure cooker in that student’s car.

Four students have been charged with various marijuana-related drug offenses resulting from the original investigation. Federal and local authorities determined there was no threat from explosives, according to a statement from the university.

No one was hurt and students were allowed back in their apartments after the search.

According to ETSU public safety documents obtained through an open records request, a fire alarm Friday night prompted an officer to check Buccaneer Ridge Building D room B16. The officer, Stacy Wigand, entered this room and smelled “a strong odor of marijuana,” according to the documents.

ETSU student Elias Crockett Rasmussen told Wigand that he had just got out of the shower and that was what set off the fire alarm. Wigand said some ammunition was in plain view in the bathroom. This discovery and the smell of marijuana prompted a search of the apartment. Rasmussen consented to the search, according to the documents, and police found drug paraphernalia including a ledger with accounts of sales and weights of marijuana sales. Also found was $575 in cash.

Police also found a knife exceeding four inches in length in the apartment. Approximately two ounces of marijuana was also recovered, some of which was individually packaged, according to the documents.

Rasmussen was charged with possession of schedule VI drugs for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia, maintaining a dwelling where drugs are used or sold and carrying or possessing a weapon on school property.

He bonded out of the Washington County Detention Center and was being assisted by ETSU public safety in retrieving his belongings from his apartment around 8 p.m. Saturday when two men were seen sitting on a couch in the apartment, smoking marijuana, according to the documents. Marijuana was also seen in plain view on the table in front of them.

These men were identified as students Rishi Malhotra and Brandon Buchanan. Both were charged with simple possession of schedule VI drugs and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Malhotra and Buchanan did not live in this particular apartment room, and told police they were guests of Wesley Miracle, who was not there.

Miracle was contacted and soon arrived at his apartment. He gave consent for police to search the room and they found 101.5 grams of marijuana in his room and several drug paraphernalia items, according to the documents.

He was also charged with possession of scheduled VI drugs for resale and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Because of the amount of marijuana police had found, Malhotra and Buchanan were asked where they lived.

Buchanan lived off campus but Malhotra lived in Buccaneer Ridge building B room 307. Public safety officers decided to search Malhotra’s apartment because it was so close. He gave consent for his room to be searched. Police found clear crystal pellets, propane tanks, assorted powders and fertilizers in a dresser in this room and thought they may be explosives.

Johnson City police were notified and told ETSU officers to evacuate the building.

A bomb dog alerted to something in the trunk of Malhotra’s vehicle.

At this point, the Johnson City police bomb squad, agents with Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the FBI arrived and found a non-active pressure cooker in his vehicle. That vehicle was cleared by investigators, who then retrieved all the powders and liquids from Malhotra’s room.

Those substances will be sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for further testing, according to the documents.

ETSU public safety noted in the report that Malhotra would be under surveillance by the FBI and ATF.

Around 11:30 a.m. Sunday, ETSU Vice President of Finance and Administration David Collins sent an email to faculty, staff and students explaining the situation and that saying administrators thought no danger was present for the campus community.

“No firearms or explosive devices were located, and it was the conclusion of the responding agencies that these items were not being used for manufacturing any type of explosive device,” Collins wrote in this email. “All powders and the liquid are being sent to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation for analysis. The incident remains under investigation.”

Malhotra, Buchanan and Miracle were being held in WCDC.

Collins said in the email that a campus disciplinary review of these four students has begun. None of these men will be allowed on campus during this disciplinary review.

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