updated 9/27/2006 3:40:24 PM ET 2006-09-27T19:40:24

A federal courthouse within sight of the Capitol was evacuated for three hours Wednesday morning while authorities investigated a suspicious package that turned out to be a homeless person’s clothes, officials said.

The building was evacuated when a police dog trained to detect explosives alerted to a package found near a construction trailer outside the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse.

U.S. Marshal George B. Walsh said the package contained discarded clothing believed to belong to one of the homeless people who sleep in the nearby park. Soiled clothing can give off a scent similar to some nitrogen-based explosives, authorities said.

Marshals ordered a full security sweep of the building as a precaution and shut down part of Constitution Avenue, which runs in front of the courthouse, and all side streets.

“We’re not going to play a game of roulette or craps out here with people’s lives,” Walsh said.

Evacuation of the courthouse occurred shortly before a hearing was to begin in the CIA leak case. The hearing began at 1:30 p.m., about an hour after the building reopened.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and about eight of his associates were forced to leave the building and join more than 100 others on the sidewalks nearby.

The defendant in the case, former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, and his legal team arrived a short time later and joined the throng outside the courthouse.

The judges of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia were temporarily moved across the street to the Superior Courthouse.

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