Man held in Vegas solar-array attack to get competency exams

A man held in what authorities characterize as a terror attack on a solar power facility serving Las Vegas Strip casinos was removed from a courtroom after becoming verbally disruptive

Ken Ritter
Tuesday 10 January 2023 21:29 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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A man arrested in what authorities characterized as a terror attack last week on a solar power facility serving Las Vegas Strip casinos was removed from a courtroom Tuesday after becoming verbally disruptive, and his attorney asked a judge to schedule a competency evaluation before he faces multiple felony charges.

Mohammed Reza Mesmarian, 34, seated in shackles with other detainees, interrupted another case by complaining about a “broken” legal system before being escorted by bailiffs out of Las Vegas Justice Court.

Mesmarian, who refused to attend court following his arrest last week, returned Tuesday for a brief initial appearance on charges including terrorism, arson, destruction of property and escape. Details of the incident were not described.

Mesmarian ended by asking Justice of the Peace Nadia Wood, “OK. What are we going to do about the things I was talking about?” The judge didn’t answer.

Mesmarian’s attorney, Nick Pitaro, asked for a mental health evaluation for his client, and Wood scheduled Mesmarian to remain jailed without bail pending evaluations by doctors and a Jan. 31 appearance before a state court judge who will consider their reports.

Pitaro declined outside court to comment or identify a man and woman he conferred with and walked with out of the courthouse.

“Given the nature of the case, I would like not to make any comment,” the attorney said.

Mesmarian is accused of ramming a car through a fence surrounding a solar array about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of downtown Las Vegas and setting the vehicle afire early Jan. 4 next to an electric transformer.

The facility serves several Las Vegas Strip properties operated by MGM Resorts International, including Bellagio, MGM Grand, Aria and Park MGM. Company spokesman Brian Ahern said Tuesday the company switched to the statewide electric grid, and there was no effect at the casino resorts.

FBI Las Vegas spokeswoman Sandra Breault confirmed the bureau is involved in the case as part of a regional Joint Terrorism Task Force, but she said the investigation was headed by Las Vegas police. She declined comment about Mesmarian's case.

Las Vegas police said Mesmarian was arrested Jan. 5 in Boulder City. KLAS-TV cited court records that said the arrest was near the Boulder Beach campground at the Lake Mead National Recreation Area; that Mesmarian doused electrical transformer wires with gasoline before setting the car ablaze; and he sat and watched the fire for 15 minutes before walking away.

Police reported finding two laptop computers in the burned vehicle, and an iPhone with an account connected to Mesmarian.

Chicago-based Invenergy, operator of the Mega Solar Array facility, notified authorities before noon Jan. 4 of damage, police said. The company said in a statement Tuesday that it shut down plant operations as a precaution, no people were injured, and the facility was expected to return to full operations this week.

The power plant has more than 300,000 solar panels in a 1-square-mile (2.6-square-kilometers) desert area near Interstate 15 and U.S. 93. It began operation in 2021 with a capacity of 100 megawatts, or about enough electricity to power 27,000 U.S. homes.

The incident in Nevada came just days after two men were arrested and charged with vandalizing electrical substations in Washington state and a month after federal regulators ordered a review of security standards at the nation’s electricity transmission network.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission action in December followed shootings that damaged two electric substations in North Carolina and caused more than 45,000 customers to lose power.

At least four electrical substations were targeted in attacks in Oregon and Washington beginning in late November that cut power to customers. Attackers used firearms in at least some of those incidents. The affected utilities — Portland General Electric, the Bonneville Power Administration and Puget Sound Energy — said they were working with the FBI.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism advisory bulletin Nov. 30, listing U.S. critical infrastructure among possible “targets of potential violence.”

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