Judge finds man accused of mailing explosives incompetent
SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a Washington state man accused of mailing explosive devices to government agencies in the Washington, D.C., area is not competent to help with his defense and should receive treatment before his case moves forward.
A competency evaluation for Thanh Cong Phan found him to have schizophrenia, Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Miyake told U.S. District Judge John Coughenour during a hearing.
The mental health expert who examined Phan said she doesn’t believe he is able to assist his lawyer in his defense. Miyake said Phan should be sent to a hospital for four months to have his competency restored. The judge agreed.
Phan, 44, had a history of calling, texting and writing to local and federal law enforcement agencies to tell them about his concerns about mind-control conspiracies and cyber terrorists. But in March, things changed, according to records acquired by The Associated Press.
Eleven packages containing explosive materials were mailed to the agencies on March 16, according to an indictment filed against Phan, who is from Everett, north of Seattle. The agencies received the packages on March 26.
The devices were glass vials or bottles containing a smokeless powder and a fuse, the indictment said.
The FBI traced the packages to a post office in Mill Creek, Washington, and surveillance photos connected the packages to Phan, the FBI said. None of the devices ignited, and no one was injured.
FBI investigators have recovered a total of 18 packages believe to be sent by Phan, Ayn Dietrich, an FBI spokeswoman in Seattle, said Thursday. The agencies that received packages included the CIA, Secret Service, Dahlgren Naval Base in Virginia, the National Security Agency and FBI headquarters.
The package sent to the FBI also had a “typed written letter with incoherent ramblings.”
The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office had many interactions with Phan for several years, according to police reports and 911 dispatch tapes acquired by The Associated Press.
Phan had sent similar letters to the sheriff’s office, and he often called 911 or texted messages detailing conspiracy theories about government mind-control programs, according to the reports.
“This is no emergency,” he told the dispatch operator in one of many calls. “I have a problem with high-tech terrorists cyber. You understand the word cyber, right?”
He said this cyber terrorist was able to read his mind and “the FBI’s mind” through a wireless communication. They also had an invisible camera, he said, that was “on the sky and they can see inside a house.”
Phan claimed this device could be used as a weapon. The cell towers were really microwave towers that could burn his body, he said.
“Keep in mind I can talk but I can’t hear very well because neuro-science terror control my hearing,” he told dispatch. “It’s called synthetic telepathy. Control my body wireless.”
He had made dozens of similar calls since 2016.
His letters said the terrorists used his photo ID and broke into his mail and email to send fake information to authorities. Phan warned that the terrorist was trying to infiltrate the U.S. military, including the naval stations in Bethesda and Everett.
A sheriff’s deputy who helped the FBI arrest Phan in March said he was familiar with Phan because of his many calls to law enforcement.
During one encounter, “Thanh came across as a potential mental health subject and no criminal behavior was identified,” Deputy Nathan Smith said.
Smith also interviewed Phan’s neighbor, who said he “suffered from obvious mental health issues,” but he “generally was a good neighbor.”
Phan’s behavior leading up to the mailings was not enough to take him into custody, said Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“If he threatened violence, the FBI could take action,” Winkler said. “You can’t arrest someone because they have crazy ideas.”