Authorities in Mississippi are trying to determine how three Tea Party officials wound up locked inside a courthouse hours after ballots were counted in an extremely tight Republican primary election.
Incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran and state Sen. Chris McDaniel will face off in a runoff election later this month after both candidates fell short of the 50 percent needed for victory.
The Tea Party challenger McDaniel received about 1,400 more votes than his rival.
But one of his top aides and two others associated with McDaniel’s campaign are under investigation by the Hinds County sheriff’s department after they were found locked inside the courthouse where votes were counted.
Campaign coalition director Scott Brewster, Central Mississippi Tea Party board member Janis Lane, and consultant Rob Chambers somehow gained access to the building and stayed there until police arrived about 3:45 a.m. and let them out.
“There are conflicting stories from the three of them, which began to raise the red flag, and we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” said Othor Cain, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department. “No official charges have been filed at this point, but we don’t know where the investigation will lead us.”
Authorities said any charges, if filed, would likely be trespassing.
The McDaniel campaign said the staffers entered through an open door to observe ballot counting but were locked inside until calling a Cochran ally for help.
“She called me as I was getting out of my car and said that she was in the courthouse, locked in and couldn’t get out, and it took me a minute or two for that to register and exactly what she meant,” said Pete Perry, executive chairman of the Hinds County Republican Party.
Brewster was recently in the news after admitting he was aware that photos of Cochran’s ailing wife that were taken at her nursing home by Tea Party activists had been included in a political hit video.
McDaniel’s campaign denied involvement, but three of his supporters were arrested in connection with the photos.
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