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2 men arrested in Hemet police attacks; 2 suspects remain at large, authorities say [Updated]

July 3, 2010 |  1:10 pm
Hemet police arrested two suspects, one a convicted felon, for seven violent attacks against the police agency that have put this small Riverside County city on edge for months, authorities announced Saturday.

Nicholas John Smit, 40, of Hemet, was charged with attempted murder of a police officer and building a potentially deadly booby trap and targeting law enforcement officers. Smit already faces charges for cultivating marijuana, the result of an earlier arrest made by Hemet police, said Chief Richard Dana.
Authorities discussed few details about the case. However, Dana said Smit made it clear that he didn't like the police before invoking his right to remain silent.

"He made a couple statements that made us believe that he didn't like us very much," said Dana, who announced the arrests at a Saturday news conference with Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff Jr. and agents from the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Also arrested was Steven Hansen, 36, of Homeland, who was taken into custody on a parole violation.

[Updated at 3:36 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Smit as Smith.]

Dana said 78 officers, deputies and federal agents raided the two suspects' homes Friday. Two other suspects remain at large, he said. Police are still trying to determine whether the two men are connected with any area gangs. Investigators believe a local white supremacist gang may have been behind the attacks.

"The community is relieved," said Hemet Mayor Eric McBride. "They wanted to see closure on this, and now we have some progress."

The arrest comes less than a week after a suspected arson fire damaged a Hemet Police Department building that housed evidence gathered from those attacks as well from thousands of pending and closed criminal cases. Investigators suspected the fire, reported June 28 at 2:23 a.m, was among the attacks that have the put the police agency on edge since the beginning of the year.

In January, the Hemet-San Jacinto Valley Gang Task Force discovered that a natural gas line had been diverted into their office, filling it with fumes, although the gas never ignited. A month later, a booby trap -- a so-called zip gun -- fired a bullet at an officer when he opened a security gate.

In March, a suspicious device was attached to a gang enforcement officer's unmarked vehicle; two weeks later, four city code-enforcement trucks were torched in the Hemet City Hall parking lot.

In April, an early morning fire damaged the Hemet police shooting range. And in June, authorities found a vintage military rocket on the roof of a nearby market, pointed in the direction of the police station.

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown visited the area two months ago and, with Riverside County Dist. Atty. Rod Pacheco, offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the attacks.

Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department joined with the Hemet police in a special task force investigating the attacks.

-- Phil Willon