Man held in Las Vegas solar array attack to get competency exams
Tuesday, January 10, 2023 | 1:02 pm
A man arrested in what authorities characterized as a deliberate attack last week on a solar power plant serving Las Vegas Strip casinos was removed from a courtroom Tuesday after he became divisive and his attorney asked him to a judge to order a competency evaluation before he faces terrorism and other charges.
Mohammed Reza Mesmarian, 34, sitting in handcuffs with other inmates, interrupted another case by complaining about a “broken” legal system before being escorted by bailiffs from the Las Vegas Justice Court.
Mesmarian, who refused to attend court after his arrest last week, returned Tuesday for a brief initial appearance on felony charges including arson, destruction of property and escape. Details of the incident have not been described.
Mesmarian concluded by asking Justice of the Peace Nadia Wood, “OK. What are we going to do about the things I was talking about?” The judge did not answer.
Mesmarian’s attorney, Nick Pitaro, requested a mental health evaluation for his client, and Wood ordered Mesmarian to remain in jail without bail pending medical evaluations and a Jan. 31 appearance before a state court judge. who will review their reports.
Pitaro declined outside court to comment or identify a man and a woman he spoke with and walked out of court.
“Given the nature of the case, I would not like to make any comments,” the lawyer said.
Mesmarian is accused of crashing a car through a fence surrounding a solar array about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of downtown Las Vegas and setting the car on fire early Jan. 4 near an electrical 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 that the company switched to statewide power and had no effect on casino resorts.
Las Vegas FBI spokeswoman Sandra Breault confirmed the bureau is involved in the case as part of a Joint Regional Terrorism Task Force, but she said the investigation was being led by Las Vegas police. She declined to comment on Mesmariani’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 Boulder Beach Campground in Lake Mead National Recreation Area; that Mesmarian doused the wires of the electrical transformer with gasoline before setting the car on fire; and he sat and watched the fire for 15 minutes before leaving.
The police announced that in the burnt vehicle they found two laptop computers and an iPhone with an account linked to Mesmaria.
Chicago-based Invenergy, operator of the Mega Solar Array facility, notified authorities before noon on Jan. 4 of the damage, police said. The company said in a statement Tuesday that it shut down plant operations as a precaution, that no one was injured and that the facility was expected to return to full operation this week.
The plant has more than 300,000 solar panels on a 1-square-mile (2.6-square-kilometer) desert area near Interstate 15 and US 93. It began operations in 2021 with a capacity of 100 megawatts, or roughly enough electricity to energy. 27,000 US 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 safety standards on the nation’s power transmission grid.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s action in December followed a shooting that damaged two electrical 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 knocked out power to customers. The attackers used firearms in at least some of those incidents. The affected utilities — Portland General Electric, Bonneville Power Administration and Puget Sound Energy — said they were working with the FBI.
The US Department of Homeland Security issued a national terrorism advisory bulletin on November 30, listing US critical infrastructure among “potential targets of violence”.