An employee of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was arrested on charges of disabling the fire alarm system and damaging property in his Metairie hotel room, according to a Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office arrest report.
Russell Vanderwerf, 44, of Houston was booked Dec. 1 with simple criminal damage valued at $500 to $5,000 and interfering with fire prevention after staffers at the Residence Inn, 3 Galleria Blvd., began investigating a malfunctioning fire alarm system, the arrest report said.
A technician who was summoned Nov. 30 tracked the alarm problem to the second-floor room registered to Vanderwerf, the arrest report said. Inside, staffers found the smoke detectors in the bedroom and kitchen-den had been removed and the horn that blares alarms was hanging out of the wall.
But the staffers and a deputy sheriff also discovered that someone had removed the bedroom door from its hinges and replaced it with a 5-by-4-foot piece of plywood affixed to the frame and the drywall with hinges and screws, the arrest report said. The door had two locks attached from the bedroom side and a circular hole padded with duct tape. The deputy noted in the arrest report that the hole appeared to be used “in some sort of sexual act.”
A front-desk staffer told authorities that she’d received a complaint from a hotel guest who said the door to that room had been propped open on the night of Nov. 30 and that she noticed several “young men” entering and exiting. The guest also complained of hearing “sex noises” coming from the room, the arrest report said.
Vanderwerf was taken into custody at ATF’s New Orleans area field office, located at 1 Galleria Blvd. across the street from the hotel, the report said.
When questioned about the damage, Vanderwerf admitted to disabling the smoke detectors because he said they were repeatedly triggered by steam from his shower, the report said. He also admitted to putting up the plywood door but would give not other details.
The arrest report said hotel staffers found paint and caulk in the room, suggesting he might have intended to fix the damage himself.
The Sheriff’s Office would not comment on the case Tuesday. Col. John Fortunato, spokesman for the agency, said the matter remained under investigation.
Vanderwerf was released from the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center on Dec. 2 on a $4,000 bond. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
He serves as the director of industry operations for ATF’s Houston field office. The industry operations division is the regulatory arm of the agency, responsible for overseeing the inspection of all federal gun and explosives licensees, said ATF spokesman Drew Wade. He confirmed that Vanderwerf was in the New Orleans area on official business.
We are aware of the arrest by the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office,” said Wade, who added that he could not discuss anything that could be connected to a continuing investigation.