Sheriffs hopes to bolster court security
EAGLE – Local authorities are planning to beef up security at the county courthouse following last week’s shooting of a judge in an Atlanta courtroom.”Something similar to what happened there could happen here,” said Eagle County Sheriff Joe Hoy. “We will probably have our security checkpoint once a month on a random basis.” The fact is dozens of people pass daily through the courthouse in Eagle without getting screened by a metal detector.Though the Sheriff’s Office owns a screening machine, similar to the ones used at the safety checkpoints at the airports, it doesn’t have the personnel to use it every day, Hoy said. “We need to look into the future and this is a concern for me,” Hoy said. “It only takes one time.” On March 11, a defendant on trial in Atlanta allegedly stole a weapon from a deputy and shot and killed a judge, a court reporter and a deputy at the Fulton County courthouse.As the budget for the courthouse and the Sheriff comes from Eagle County, Hoy said, it would be up to the county commissioners to increase the budget or hire a private security company.
Less-than-lethal forceCapt. Bill Kaufman, the county jail administrator who is in charge of bringing inmates from the jail to court hearings, said under current security measure, anyone could get into a courtroom armed.”Most justice centers, even in small municipalities, have security X-ray machines and metal detectors at checkpoints before you ever enter into the courthouse,” he said. “We don’t have that.”Kaufman said no inmate will go over to a courtroom without having some type of restraint. Typically, leg irons are used, he said. “With the exception of a trial, our officers aren’t armed with deadly weapons. They are armed with less than lethal armament,” he said.No deputies are provided either for divorce, child custody and other civil cases, or criminal cases that involve no inmates.”Only if requested by a judge will we have security in the courtroom. Then we will provide an armed officer,” Kaufman said.
Judge’s concernsThe judges however could ask the commissioners pay for more security, Hoy said, since the county owns the courthouse.Though he’s concerned by the death of the judge in Atlanta, Eagle County District Judge Richard Hart said he is more worried about getting his work done.”I wouldn’t say I feel safe,” said Hart, who has been a judge for 25 years. “But I would rather have the state spend more money to get more people to get some of the cases off my desk. The court needs more personnel.”Still, Hart said people get upset in court.”There are a couple of people I’m frightened of,” he added. “They are locked up now, but one day there will get out.”There have been times sheriff’s deputies have been called into the courtroom because someone got irritated, Hoy said.”We were called either because there was a perception something could happen or when someone lost their cool,” Hoy said.
Most incidents have been in civil court, he added. “Nothing violent – and if we get a heads up, we get a couple more deputies in uniform or civil clothes,” Hoy said.Security at the courthouse is hard to manage because it has too many entrances, Hoy said.”When this building was designed, these issues didn’t exist,” he said. “I would like to have a security checkpoint in place all the time now.”Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Vail, Colorado