A Mesa man arrested Saturday on suspicion of making a highly lethal substance in his bathroom told federal and local authorities he wore a small vial of the deadly biotoxin ricin around his neck to protect himself and to poison anyone who attacked him.
On Monday, authorities continued to clean up and inspect Casey Cutler’s small Dobson Road apartment.
And, confident that there is no terrorist threat, a number of federal agencies are converging in Mesa to take advantage of the rare opportunity to deal with the uncommon substance.
Cutler, 25, told authorities he carried the poison for self-defense after three men attacked him April 28 outside of his Emerald Apartments home at 1030 S. Dobson Road.
At least two witnesses say they saw the three men kick and beat on Cutler before stealing his wallet, a Mesa police report, released Monday, says.
Cutler told authorities that "if he was attacked again he could use the ricin in the vial as a defensive weapon," according to court documents released Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.
He told investigators that he believed "if the assailants took the vials, believing them to contain cocaine, and snorted the substance, they would get their ‘just deserts.’ "
Police say they learned that Cutler was manufacturing ricin after Jeffrey Durham, a friend of Cutler’s for the past two years, sought medical help Thursday at Mesa’s Banner Desert Medical Center, fearing he was sick from ricin after he entered Cutler’s apartment to retrieve a typewriter.
Hospital officials called Mesa police. Durham told officers on Friday that Cutler, who attended Mesa Community College in 2002, went to the school’s public computers where he easily found a recipe for ricin on the Internet.
According to court documents, Cutler admitted to police he made a crude form of ricin using castor oil and acetone that he let dry into a white powder. He told authorities he placed one jar of ricin on top of his safe. Another was open and drying under a bathroom shelf when authorities entered his home after his arrest.
Cutler was arrested Saturday in a parking lot at Main Street and Alma School Road by federal agents.
An Arizona Department of Public Safety hazardous material team searched his apartment that same day, also confiscating a bag of beans from the kitchen and a white powdery substance found on a bathroom mirror.
Over the weekend, technicians at the Arizona Department of Health Services lab confirmed that three samples collected from Cutler tested positive as being ricin. Additional testing is still being conducted.
FBI special agent Deborah McCarley said traces of methamphetamine were also found in the three samples that have tested positive as ricin.
On Sunday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a complaint in federal court, charging Cutler with producing and possessing a biological toxin for use as a weapon. If convicted, Cutler could face life in prison.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. today.
On Monday, Emerald Avenue just off Dobson Road was closed as FBI agents and Mesa firefighters wearing white biohazard suits slowly took apart Cutler’s 400-square-foot studio in search of evidence and to clean any residue. Residents watched as the teams walked in and out, past a yellow tent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would use for testing any suspicious substances.
"It makes you wonder what else is going on behind closed doors," said Gloria Ramirez, whose apartment is above Cutler’s. She and friends said they were "kind of freaked out" but grateful for the police intervention.
The incident brought key FBI agents from the agency’s Quantico, Va., headquarters as well as from Los Angeles and Dallas. Public health experts with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are also expected to arrive and take samples for testing.
State epidemiologist David Engelthaler said he expects the nation’s eye to remain on Mesa as several key health and safety agencies take advantage of what can be a learning experience as terrorism remains a national threat. Ricin is difficult and only purposefully made — and rarely found internationally, he said.
"It’s rare to be dealing with a chemical like ricin," said Mesa fire deputy chief Mary Cameli. "It’s a good experience for us to be working with the FBI on an incident this rare."
Mesa detective Tim Gaffney said police have dealt with Cutler six times prior to his reported assault, but he has never been charged with a crime. Records show he was a witness in cases involving domestic violence, a car crash and a driver using fictitious plates.
He was also questioned about public consumption of alcohol, urinating in public and in an auto theft case.
Shortly after the April attack, Cutler moved to his mother’s house in the 400 block of East Royal Palm Drive, where neighbors said he was quiet and kept to himself.
Jerry Coran, who lives across the street, said he was surprised to receive a community notification from Mesa police advising that ricin had been found in the area.
"When I did see him, he was just a normal person," Coran said of Cutler. "He didn’t do anything outrageous or crazy."