SAN ANTONIO -- Five foreign nationals with French visas broke into a San Antonio courthouse early yesterday, authorities said, setting off a heavy police response with bomb-sniffing dogs and FBI agents. Hours later, officials said the young men turned out to be harmless bar hoppers looking for kicks.
Courthouse surveillance photos released by police show two men donning sombreros while running down a hallway around 1:30 a.m. A beer bottle was left in one courtroom, Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz said, and the suspects playfully swung around a judge's gavel before getting caught.
"Evidently, they had been drinking prior to coming up here," Ortiz said. "It's very likely these individuals were just intoxicated."
All the men are in their 20s and are expected to be charged with burglary. Although their visas listed French addresses, authorities said they were not sure of their original nationalities. A law enforcement official who didn't want to be named or further identified said that three of them gave Brooklyn addresses as temporary addresses when they entered the United States last month through Kennedy Airport.
Ortiz said the men appeared to pose no security threat.
The levity with which police described the drunken caper at an afternoon news conference differed sharply from the intensity and suspicion that surrounded the courthouse earlier in the day. Police closed downtown streets, and tactical units combed the building for explosives. Authorities also searched the nearby convention center where dozens of top U.S. intelligence officials were attending a conference.
Ortiz defended the aggressive police response to five foreign suspects seen breaking into a government building, and acknowledged local kids pulling the same prank wouldn't have brought out the same swarm of law enforcement.
"Because they are foreign nationals, and because of everything that has happened in the United States recently, we can't take anything like this as a prank," Ortiz said. "They were clowning around in the courtroom. They put on Mexican hats, they grabbed the gavel," Ortiz said. "That gave us an indication they weren't up to anything other than a prank."