In a booking photo provided by the Dearborn, Mich., police department, Roger Stockham is shown. Stockham, of Imperial Beach, Calif, was arrested on Jan. 24, 2011 outside the Islamic Center of America mosque in Dearborn, Mich. Stockham was arraigned Wednesday on charges of making a false report or threat of terrorism and possessing explosives with an unlawful intent. (AP Photo/Dearborn Police, HO)
Hours before he was arrested on the suspicion he was plotting to blow up a popular Detroit-area mosque, a California man told people at a nearby sports bar that he planned to set off a "big explosion," bar employees said Monday.
Joe Nahhas, a manager at the J.S. Fields bar in Detroit, told The Associated Press that a man later identified as 63-year-old Roger Stockham ordered a Scotch on Jan. 24 and told him he planned to cause an explosion that would be "here, there, the mosque."
Nahhas said he called 911 to report the incident, and police have said a tip preceded Stockham's arrest near the Islamic Center of America in neighboring Dearborn a few hours later.
"My honest belief is he was having a celebration before hurting people," said Nahhas, whose bar is down the street from the mosque, one of the largest in North America.
"I realized this guy means business," he said.
When officers pulled him over, Stockham, of Imperial Beach, Calif., was wearing a ski mask and driving around with powerful Class-C fireworks, which are illegal in Michigan, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said Monday. Police earlier said Stockham was arrested in the mosque parking lot, but said Monday he was actually arrested on a street nearby.
Investigators also found open alcohol containers and spray paint in Stockham's car, police said in a statement.
Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said Sunday that authorities believe Stockham was acting alone in the plot against the suburban Detroit center but still take him "very seriously." He was arraigned Wednesday on one count of making a false report or threat of terrorism and one count of possessing explosives with an unlawful intent.
"I was comfortable with the fact that we had taken him off the street -- he isn't going anywhere," Haddad said. "I think the society he wanted to impact is safe."
Court documents in Vermont show Stockham pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to charges stemming from threats made in 2002 against the U.S. president and against veterans' facilities in that state. Stockham was charged after officials say he threatened employees at a Veterans Administration hospital in White River Junction, Vt., and at a veterans' center in South Burlington, Vt. He allegedly threatened the murder the president -- who at the time was George W. Bush -- saying he was going to "whack the bastard."
According to Thomas Zonay, an attorney who represented him at the time, Stockham was committed for a psychiatric examination at the U.S. Medical Center for Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., for four months in 2005 and was found to have bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorder. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons says Stockham was released from custody that year.
Haddad said he called the Islamic Center's leader early Tuesday to let him know of the arrest. He later met with Imam Hassan al-Qazwini and mosque board members, who he said shared concerns about copycat crimes if the arrest was publicized, and Haddad said he understood.
"We never want to put something out there that gives someone the `how-to,"' Haddad said.
Qazwini informed worshippers about the incident during his sermon Friday. The Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter issued a news release Saturday night and the police followed Sunday morning.
Stockham remained jailed Sunday on a $500,000 bond. A preliminary examination is scheduled for Friday.
Police didn't know whether Stockham had an attorney. A public records search did not turn up a listed number for Stockham, though Haddad said he lives in Imperial Beach, near San Diego.
Landon Debono, a 24-year-old Navy veteran who is neighbor's with Stockham, said Stockham put forth a happy face but seemed troubled.
"I think he suffered from PTSD," said Landon.
At a small two-story apartment building in Imperial Beach that records show as Stockham's last address, resident Landon DeBono said Stockham moved out three or four weeks ago, and said something about being in trouble.
He said Stockham kept to himself, and has a scar on his neck from a suicide attempt almost a year ago. Debono said he was friends with Stockman's ex-girlfriend, and that he would see Stockham regularly at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars bar.
"He was always at the bar," he said. "He was a very likeable, good guy. I wouldn't think he'd be capable of doing something like this. It's pretty trippy, kind of weird he was living right there. I never thought him to be a violent person."
Dearborn, located about 10 miles west of Detroit, is the capital of the Detroit area's Arab-American community, which is one of the largest in the U.S. A third of the city's 100,000 residents trace their roots to the Arab world.