LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – An Arkansas doctor charged with illegally owning high-explosive grenades is a "person of interest" in the February bombing that injured the chairman of the state Medical Board.
Grover Crossland, a resident agent in charge of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' Little Rock office, said Wednesday that Dr. Randeep Mann remains "on the radar" for the unsolved bombing.
That contradicts previous statements from the ATF saying the Pope County doctor was not being looked at over the attack on Dr. Trent Pierce of West Memphis.
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Speaking to The Associated Press, Crossland said other doctors disciplined by the state Medical Board also remained under examination in the ATF's investigation. However, Mann appears to be the only one arrested as their inquiry continues.
"We are looking at everybody, whether they were a doctor, family member, an employee, a neighbor, you know, whomever," Crossland said. "Anybody who has issues with Dr. Pierce, we're looking at them hot and heavy."
However, much of the ATF's attention has focused on the state Medical Board, which regulates more than 8,000 doctors, 3,000 therapists and nearly 400 osteopaths. Pierce would cast a deciding vote only when the board's 12 other members couldn't resolve cases — a rare occurrence.
Pierce "really doesn't have hardly any enemies," Crossland said. "He's a very, very prominent doctor who is well-liked in the community."
The state Medical Board once suspended and later revoked Mann's prescription privileges over complaints about patient deaths and allegations over pain-pill prescriptions. Mann recently sued the board, claiming that the panel is biased against him because he is a native of India and is a Hindu.
Mann was arrested after London city workers taking a bathroom break in a wooded area stumbled across a plastic-wrapped canister containing grenades. The rounds are designed to be fired from launchers attached to rifles.
Federal agents immediately suspected the grenades belonged to Mann, who had shown them a launcher a month earlier when they questioned him about the Pierce attack. Agents say they found practice grenade rounds and launchers, as well as $1 million worth of machine guns while serving a search warrant at Mann's home, near the state's only nuclear reactor.
Though agents initially said some of the machine guns were unregistered, a grand jury only indicted Mann for illegally possessing the grenades. Mann, 50, has pleaded not guilty and remains held without bond pending trial.
Blake Hendrix, a Little Rock lawyer representing Mann, said the ATF's interest in his client wouldn't affect his defense against the weapons charge.
"Many, many people would be a 'person of interest"' in the Pierce bombing, Hendrix said.
Austin Banks, an ATF special agent and spokesman, told reporters for weeks after Mann's arrest that the arrest wasn't connected to the bombing and that Mann wasn't considered as a suspect in it. Reached Wednesday, Banks said that Crossland's statements and what he said were "one message" before hanging up abruptly.
Pierce was injured Feb. 4 by the blast that occurred when he reached down to move a stray tire from the path of his hybrid Lexus sport-utility vehicle, family friends have said. While ATF agents have declined to discuss the tire, they say the bomb was homemade, not manufactured military explosives or dynamite.
Crossland declined to discuss the explosive used in the attack, though he described the ATF's investigation as "extremely active."
"We have interviewed, it's in the hundreds of people," the agent said. "We're using every means available to us to investigate this thing, and that includes court orders, subpoenas, polygraphs (and) surveillance. You name it, we've done it."
Pierce, who spent weeks at The Med hospital in Memphis, Tenn., has been discharged, said family friend Scott Ferguson, another West Memphis doctor. Ferguson said Pierce, who lost his left eye in the explosion, also can no longer hear out of his left ear. Pierce also lost his sense of smell in the blast and now suffers sinus problems, but Ferguson said family hopes that improves over time.
Pierce uses a cane to walk around, but likely will be able to walk unassisted in the coming weeks, Ferguson said. Pierce, a family physician, has hopes of returning to his practice in three months, he said.
"He's got quite a bit of stuff to go, but he's just doing exceptional," Ferguson said.