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Woman charged after hazmat scare at courthouse, suspect said she used frankincense to incite panic

Posted at 5:35 PM, Sep 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-23 18:33:36-04

ELKTON, Md. — She may have appeared to be a self-appointed greeter on Friday morning outside the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse, as police say 59-year-old Sandra Potts met everyone with a smile and a reaching hand.

"The female was approaching a lot of people and was placing her hands on them for various things---saying, 'Oh, I like your jacket,' and they described her as just being very touchy," said Lt. Michael Holmes of the Cecil County Sheriff’s Office.

Touchy and smelly.

As the 16 people who had encountered Potts arrived in the courthouse, they noticed a strong odor where she had touched them.

RELATED: Woman arrested after rubbing strange substance on people at Circuit Court building

"I think it took some time for people to figure out what was going on,” said Allie Austin who works in the Jury Office. “It is a scary situation when someone is putting their hands and you don't know what they have on them."

According to charging documents, the increasing reports from the employees caused a mass hysteria regarding fear of a chemical attack.

"She was taken into custody,” said Holmes. “There was a great concern over what maybe she was rubbing on the employees. There was a very strong odor attached to that so we had our Cecil County Emergency Services Hazmat Team respond to the courthouse for precaution."

While some people reported experiencing headaches from the smell, responders quickly determined Potts had used a non-toxic substance.

"I think that it just had a strong smell,” said Austin. “I think I heard something maybe about it smelling like alcohol, so I'm not sure."

Potts uttered the liquid was frankincense, which is an aromatic mixture of oils used for a variety of religious or health remedies, but in this case, it appears the goal was to disrupt her son's sexual assault trial scheduled for that day.

"She did make a comment that she would interrupt court services and she did succeed at the time, for a brief period of time of doing that," added Holmes.

Now, Potts faces nine counts of second-degree assault and disorderly conduct, while a jury on Tuesday found her son, 26-year-old Ashton Stroud, guilty in his rape trial despite his mother's desperate effort to derail justice.