Ga. shooting spurs tight courthouse security here

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Last week’s Atlanta courthouse shooting and its aftermath thatultimately left a judge, two law enforcement officers and a courtreporter dead has sheriffs here re-evaluating courthousesecurity.

Brian G. Nichols, 33, a former college linebacker facing trialon rape charges, allegedly overpowered Fulton County, Ga., DeputyCynthia Hall, a 51-year-old grandmother, in a holding cell Friday.Officials said Nichols managed to take her pistol from a lockboxusing her keys and went to the courthouse, where he allegedly shotSuperior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter JulieBrandau.

Nichols is also accused of shooting and killing Deputy Sgt. HoytTeasley, who was trying to prevent his escape from the courthouse.A federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent also was killedover the weekend, allegedly by Nichols.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Effects of incident appear to have a ripple effect across thenation as those responsible for courthouse security re-evaluatetheir methods.

“In a matter of a few minutes after I heard about Atlanta, Ithought about our situation here and decided to see what we neededto do here,” Lawrence County Sheriff Joel Thames said.

Lincoln County Sheriff Wiley Calcote agreed.

“We are definitely interested in entertaining the idea ofincreasing security at the courthouse,” he said.

Changes will be seen in Lawrence County as early as March 22,when Chancery Court meets for the first time since the Atlantaincident, Thames said. Although the Lawrence County Sheriff’sDepartment routinely places officers in the courtroom duringCircuit Court proceedings, it has never had an officer monitoringChancery Court. That will change.

“There’s actually more circumstances of angry people there thanin criminal court,” Thames said, citing divorces and child custodybattles as cases where veiled threats and shouting arefrequent.

Lincoln County already has an officer assigned to Chancery Courtduring sessions, Calcote said.

Courtroom security has weighed heavily on the sheriffs’ minds inrecent days.

“We try to keep all the doors to the courtroom locked with theexception of the east side, where the metal detector is,” Thamessaid. “During court days, I also have a deputy there with a handwand.”

Calcote said he is evaluating security measures to betterprotect other areas of the courthouse while improving enforcementof existing policies.

“We have been talking with the officials in the courthouse, andI think it would be a good idea to have more security there,” hesaid. “The metal detector and the officers are about the onlysecurity we presently have.”

However, Calcote said, in the past the metal detector has notbeen used every day court is in session. It will be used more now,he said.

“I’ve still got to get with the judges and see exactly what theywant,” Calcote added.

Thames said he is also trying to consult with judges and othercourthouse officials in Lawrence County to decide what needs to bedone.

“They may have suggestions of their own they’d like to see putin place,” he said.

Neither sheriff would comment on other prospective improvementsfor the courthouses or courtrooms until they could consult with theother officials.

“I don’t want to say I’m going to improve something and then notbe able to do it,” Thames said.

Although the courthouse is the responsibility of the sheriff’sdepartment to maintain and secure, any changes that would requirefunding must be approved and provided for by the county’s board ofsupervisors, Thames said.

“Obviously, the expense is going to be a concern, and you’ve gotto take that under consideration,” he said.