ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) An Air Force civilian police officer at Joint Base Charleston was arrested in Florida after threatening to run his vehicle into a hospital or military base so that authorities would be forced to kill him, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said.
The FDLE arrested Thomas James Stephan on Wednesday after receiving a warning from authorities in South Carolina, where the man has worked as an Air Force civilian police officer at Joint Base Charleston.
He was charged with written or electronic threats to kill, do bodily injury or conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism, according to the affidavit.
An arrest affidavit said Stephan, 30, sent multiple text messages on Tuesday to a sworn law enforcement officer at JBC, threatening to run his vehicle into a hospital or access a military installation and provoke a deadly shootout so that authorities would be forced to kill him.
Stephan " sent several text messages that he would cause a mass casualty event,” according to the affidavit. “The defendant identified a hospital and military base as targets of causing an act of terrorism by driving his vehicle into a location to cause injury or death to multiple people.”
During the initial investigation, Stephan “indicated during text that he was near PSFB,” the affidavit read, a reference to Patrick Space Force Base. “There is probable cause to believe the defendant has indicated that he would cause an act of terrorism by creating a mass casualty event.”
After a long series of texts, Stephan told the JBC security officer to stop texting him or he would strike.
“Another text or message and we make this from one death to a Mass case,” Stephan texted the JCB security officer, according to the affidavit. “Do we understand each other? It’s a lot what a car full of fuel can do to hospital...By your silence you understand.”
The JBC officer responded by asking about potential new employment.
“What about the job in Washington,” that security officer texted Stephan.
“Didn’t happen,” Stephan responded. “Don’t work me, been through the course.”
Officials in South Carolina interviewed his associates at the base to determine what phone number he was using, and learned that Stephan was near Patrick Space Force Base on Florida’s Atlantic Coast, the report said. A civilian member of the 628th Air Base Wing’s security forces squadron, according to the Post and Courier newspaper, Stephan was later spotted on an overpass near Universal Studios, the newspaper reported, threatening to jump. He was detained by Orlando Police for evaluation and investigation until the FDLE warrant was issued.
“We were aware of the threat,” J. Porter, chief of public affairs for Patrick Space Force Base and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, told Air Force Times. Porter declined to elaborate on what, if any, security measures were taken.
Officials from Joint Base Charleston did not immediately response to a request for comment.
Stephan is being held without bond at the Orange County Jail. The case will be prosecuted by the state attorney’s office. A lawyer who could speak on behalf of Stephan was not listed on jail records.
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.