Inmate angry over smoking ban threatens court clerk's office

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Officials say a letter containing a bomb threat and white powder sent to Nashville's court clerk was from an inmate who was upset because he could no longer smoke in prison.

The Davidson County Chancery Court Clerk and Master's office was closed for more than an hour Monday morning after white powder spilled on a clerk when she opened the letter. Officials said the threat turned out to be hoax.

State trial court administrator Larry Stephenson said the letter came from a Tennessee prison and the writer was angry about not being allowed to smoke. The inmate has not yet been identified.

Prisons across the state instituted no-smoking policies after the state Legislature passed a law last year banning smoking in state buildings.

The powder that spilled on the clerk was harmless and she was sent home to change clothes, Stephenson said.

"The onsite tests that the Fire Department was able to do determined that it was a mixture of baby powder and foot powder," he said.

Since the ban went into effect for prisons on July 1, prisons have had a few complaints and one hostage incident over the lack of cigarettes, said Department of Correction spokeswoman Dorinda Carter. Some instituted the ban before the deadline.

In February, two inmates at the Northeast Correctional Complex in Mountain City took a prison guard hostage for several hours and demanded cigarettes. The guard was later released with minor injuries.

"Other than that, some inmates have complained but no major disturbances," Carter said.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)