|Police were called to Mercy Hospital early on the morning of Nov. 6 after an explosive device was found.|
The Nov. 6 incident involving explosive devices at the Mercy campus of Ascension hospitals followed a string of threats by a local man who has a history of raising false alarms and who is facing five felony counts in Winnebago County Circuit Court for bomb scares.
The man was ordered to undergo a competency examination Nov. 5 based on threats that were made mostly in Menasha. The next day the Oshkosh Police Department said it had found two explosive devices “in an individual’s property” at the hospital in the early morning hours.
The carefully worded press release said the man was not a hospital employee but did not provide a name or any of the details about how the devices were found or what they consisted of.
Neither the hospital nor the police will go beyond prepared statements, and neither would confirm or deny whether the man who has been making the bomb threats was the same man who was detained for the explosive devices.
No charges have been filed in the Mercy case.
The man who is accused of making the bomb threats is 29-year-old Joshua Cheek, who has been living in a group home in Menasha. The age of the man described in the police press release was given as 39, and he was said to have a home in Oshkosh as opposed to Menasha, although Cheek has lived in Oshkosh, according to court records.
Cheek has been making bomb threats for more than a decade, court documents show. In January 2009 he was arrested in Gainesville, Florida, after using a public library computer to write that there were explosives at three local courts. The charges were dismissed in 2011 based on an “out of state commitment,” according to online records of Alachua County.
By then Cheek had been declared “guilty but not guilty due to mental disease/defect” on three counts of making bomb threats in Winnebago County. Based on a complaint that was filed in March 2010, Cheek wound up at Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison.
In this case Cheek accessed the internet through a PlayStation 3 video game console and entered a California-based chat room, where he left a message: “There is a bomb in Oshkosh Wisconsin 54902, I have no phone,” according to court papers.
Police were able to trace an online address to Cheek’s physical address, on West Sixth Avenue. Initially Cheek denied making the bomb threat but later acknowledged that he was worried “because he had previous troubles in Florida for ‘similar things’ and that if he were to get arrested again he would get 45 years in jail,” according to a criminal complaint.
He eventually said he had made bomb threats about the Oshkosh Public Library, City Center and the nearby hotel.
But before that case was completed, Cheek was charged with an additional count of bomb scares, according to court records. In August 2010 he borrowed his uncle’s cellphone, first to look up bomb threat cases against him in Florida and Tennessee.
Then he sent an email to the Oshkosh Police Department with the message, “bomb in downtown Oshkosh going off in one hour,” court papers show.
Court records indicate Cheek was released from Mendota in June 2014. During his stay there, he got into a physical alteracation with a female nurse who was forced to bite his hand to get him to stop strangling and suffocating her, according to a court document.
He later filed a federal lawsuit alleging excessive force by the nurse. The lawsuit, which was filed while Cheek was being held at Waupun Correctional Institution, was dismissed.
By the time Cheek left Mendota, he was facing an additional charge in Dane County of making a bomb threat. That case ended in 2016 with a guilty plea and a sentence of two years’ probation.
In May 2017 Cheek was charged in Brown County with “battery or threat to judge, prosecutor or law enforcement officer.” He was found guilty but not guilty due to mental disease/defect and committed to a mental institution. The commitment ended in March.
Cheek’s latest round of bomb threats began after he received a watch from his mother that was capable of making phone calls but was restricted to dialing only 911, according to a criminal complaint. Police say that this device made more than 200 calls to 911 from Oct. 21 to Oct. 31, at least 10 of which involved bomb threats.
Cheek told police that he started calling 911 because he was “having suicidal feelings, but hung up immediately after calling,” according to a criminal complaint. “Cheek stated that once he realized he was going to be in trouble for calling and hanging up on 911 he decided he might as well keep doing it.”
He told police that he preferred going to jail to living in the group home where he resided.
The criminal complaint describes five specific bomb threats:
- To Menasha High School on Oct. 29.
- To Family Dollar stores on Oct. 30.
- To Family Dollar again on Oct. 31.
- To the White House on Oct. 31.
- To Valley Packaging Industries, a sheltered workshop in Appleton, on Oct. 31.
Cheek’s lawyer declined to comment.