People stand outside of an evacuated Hall of Justice after a bomb threat on 7th and Bryant Streets in San Francisco's SoMa neighborhood Thursday, October 20th, 2016. (Dan Chambers/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Disorder at SF Hall of Justice: Bomb scare outside, plumbing issues inside

The Hall of Justice found itself at the epicenter of two fluid situations on Thursday, both inside and outside.

While a police bomb squad cleared a suspicious vehicle across from San Francisco’s criminal courthouse, an unknown liquid crept into a room on the fifth floor, raising concerns once again over the condition of the more than half-century-old building.

The bomb scare crippled traffic in the South of Market neighborhood and on Interstate Highway 80, which runs alongside the Hall, for several hours while police sent a bomb squad robot to investigate a vehicle with a suspicious note attached to it.

The vehicle was parked at Autoreturn, according to an employee at the 7th Street tow yard who asked to not be named.

The suspicious vehicle caused those inside the Hall to shelter in place, and police spokesperson Officer Giselle Talkoff said several blocks of Bryant Street were shut down between 6th and 8th streets.

Police responded to the incident at about 11:30 a.m. and rendered the scene safe some three hours later, lifting the shelter-in-place order and reopening the area to traffic.

Cherie Parker, a spokesperson for the Service International Employees Union Local 1021, said the union was holding its member meetings at the Hall of Justice when the bomb scare happened.

Just that morning, the SEIU 1021 issued a statement calling on The City to fix the building’s serious seismic problems. In 2012, a city report found that up to 25 people could die there during a major earthquake.

“It did put sort of a dark sense of reality in the fear that everybody has,” Parker said of the bomb threat. “It’s like they’re playing Russian Roulette.”

Parker said there was also a leak on the fifth floor while the union was there. Its members thought the leak “was the pee from the ceiling that we’ve been hearing about,” she said.

The Hall of Justice is riddled with potential health hazards, including rodents like mice and rats, cockroaches and asbestos, according to those who work there.

Maxwell Szabo, a spokesperson for the District Attorney’s Office, which has pushed The City to move them from the building, also posted on Twitter that there was a “suspicious” liquid leaking into a room on the fifth floor.

Szabo said this was the second time a leak happened this year in Room 551, which is used by the Police Commission.

However, a spokesperson for The City’s Real Estate Division said the suspicious fluid was, in fact, water that dripped from a pipe that workers were replacing in a “typically unused” holding cell on the sixth floor.

“Some water came out of that when they were replacing,” said John Gavin, a spokesperson for the Real Estate Division.

The Hall is home to traffic and criminal court matters, the District Attorney’s Office, Adult Probation Department and police offices that have not yet moved to the new Police Headquarters in Mission Bay.

Attorneys with the Public Defender’s Office work in the Hall, but their office is around the corner.

“When it happened, some of our attorneys were held in there,” said Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for the Public Defender’s Office. “Eventually, they were let out but they were trapped in the courtrooms for a while.”

Ann Donlan, a San Francisco Superior Court spokesperson, confirmed that some hearings were postponed until Friday. “Those cases that were on for the afternoon were rescheduled for tomorrow,” Donlan said.

Police have not released any suspect information in the bomb scare.

The Medical Examiner’s Office is expected to move from the Hall next fall.

S.F. Examiner intern Dan Chambers contributed to this report.

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