FORT PIERCE — A father and son who held off police on Monday by pretending to have a highly toxic poison and explosives in a motel room remain in the St. Lucie County Jail on charges of possession of hoax weapons of mass destruction.
At 7:45 p.m. Monday, they surrendered to police after an almost four-hour standoff that began when officers went to the America’s Best Value Inn, near Interstate 95 and Okeechobee Road, to serve a warrant.
They were seeking Michael Conley, 64, who was accused of dealing in stolen property involving a car from Maine.
When police Officer Wayne Kern knocked on Conley’s door, at Room 122, Conley refused to talk and claimed to have ricin, a naturally occurring poison, according to police reports. In powder form, a few grains of ricin can kill an adult. Conley showed an officer a vial with a label blacked out, according to arrest reports.
Then he allegedly brandished a knife.
Officers quickly ordered evacuation of 100 people from the hotel and others in the surrounding area west of Interstate 95.
During the standoff, 25 police showed up and were backed up by representatives of the FBI, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Bomb Disposal Unit, the Martin County Hazardous Material Waste Team, St. Lucie County Emergency Management and fire departments from St. Lucie and Martin counties.
Officers drew their guns and Conley “began pounding his chest with his knife in hand” according to the reports.
“He was screaming through the window to shoot him,” said Kern, who was concerned Conley was trying to entice officers to shoot him.
But Conley didn’t come out.
He alleged said that in addition to ricin, he had two sticks of C4 explosives that he would detonate if necessary. He challenged a SWAT team negotiator to “bring it” on.
Police negotiators attempted unsuccessfully to get Conley to release his son. Finally, at 7:45 p.m., Conley wore down. He was coaxed out of the room and arrested.
He is being held under $115,000 bail on charges of possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction, resisting an officer without violence and conspiring to deal in stolen property.
His son, Michael Harootian-Hughes, 28, is charged with one count of possession of a hoax weapon of mass destruction. He is being held under $20,000 bail, pending a hearing Tuesday.
As a precaution, both men were decontaminated before being jailed.
When police examined the motel room, they found neither ricin nor explosives, said police spokesman Sgt. Dennis McWilliams.
“We can’t explain why he (Conley) did that,” said McWilliams. “We do not know what his motivation was. It was extreme to purport to have weapons of mass destruction.”
Unknown to police at the time, Conley had served time in a Florida prison for second-degree murder and robbery with a gun in Broward County in the 1990s. Further, he was out of money, a stolen car was in the parking lot, and he was physically sick.Police went to the hotel because a St. Lucie County real estate agent reported that Conley tried to sell him a stolen car.
The real estate agent and Conley met Feb. 20 when Conley called, saying he had just arrived from Maine and wanted to buy a house in the Fort Pierce area, according to police reports.
At the time, Conley said he was staying at the Best Value Inn in a room rented by his son. Conley previously had a number of residential addresses in Fort Pierce, Post St. Lucie and Martin County.
On Feb. 21, the agent showed Conley some homes. Then Conley got the agent to rent him a motel room at the Sandhurst hotel on the beach. Conley said his money was tied up in escrow, reports show.
The next day the agent, at his own expense, took Conley to a medical office for care. It was at there that Conley allegedly asked whether the agent wanted to buy his car, a 2011 Hyundai Sonata with a Maine license plate.
When the agent checked the car’s registration number, he found that it was stolen and called 911. The car was taken from a dealership, according to arrest reports.
“There was a tremendous amount of resources expended on this hoax,” McWilliams said. “We will be discussing this with the State Attorney’s office to see where this leads.”