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Charges dismissed in Duluth post office bomb scare

Criminal charges have been dismissed against a woman who walked into Duluth's main post office last July wearing a military surplus gas mask and carrying a black duffel bag, leading to a response by police, firefighters and an explosive ordnance ...

Criminal charges have been dismissed against a woman who walked into Duluth's main post office last July wearing a military surplus gas mask and carrying a black duffel bag, leading to a response by police, firefighters and an explosive ordnance disposal team.

Perlita Emily Benz, 39, of Duluth was charged with disorderly conduct and concealing her identity in the July 11 incident. Deputies from the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Office and an inspector from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service were involved in inspecting the duffel bag and a package Benz also was carrying. No incendiary device or hazardous substances were found. The bag and package contained harmless personal belongings.

The incident lasted about six hours.

Benz underwent a court-ordered mental-health evaluation. Neither Assistant City Attorney Cary Schmies nor Indian Legal Assistance defense attorney Jennifer Barry objected to the findings of the psychologist who evaluated Benz.

According to Judge Sally Tarnowski's order dismissing the charges: At the time of the alleged offenses, Benz was acting on the basis of paranoid delusional beliefs and was laboring under such a defect of reason as to not know the nature of her actions or to know that they were wrong.

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"In particular, defendant was not capable of realizing that her behavior would alarm others nor was she capable of understanding that her use of a mask was not medically necessary," Tarnowski wrote.

Tarnowski ordered that the criminal charges be dismissed and that the prosecuting attorney refer Benz to the St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services Department for possible civil commitment proceedings or other services.

Benz was living at the Seaway Hotel at the time of the incident.

According to court records, Benz has had 43 criminal cases filed against her, including assaults, drug charges, receiving stolen property, obstructing legal process, damage to property, shoplifting, terroristic threats, fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle, brawling or fighting and drinking liquor in a city park, among other charges. She was charged earlier this month with theft.

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