Tighter security for justice court still on agenda

Published 5:00 am Thursday, April 21, 2005

County officials are still pursuing the best of several optionsto increase Justice Court security.

A Lincoln County deputy has been assigned to the court part-timetemporarily until other options can be studied, said Sheriff WileyCalcote.

“Right now, they will not start court without a man present,” hesaid.

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Concerns about security at the building have brewed for quite awhile but became an issue of more urgency last month after a man inAtlanta overpowered a deputy and killed a judge and court reporterin the Fulton County Courthouse with the deputy’s pistol.

The Atlanta incident occurred March 11, when Brian G. Nichols,33, a former college linebacker on trial for rape, overpoweredFulton County Deputy Cynthia Hall, a 51-year-old, petitegrandmother, in a holding cell. He managed to get her pistol from alockbox using her keys and went to the courthouse, where he shotSuperior Court Judge Rowland Barnes and court reporter JulieBrandau a few minutes later.

Nichols also is accused of shooting and killing Deputy Sgt. HoytTeasley, who was trying to prevent his escape from the courthouse.An Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was also killed duringthe weekend spree, allegedly by Nichols, officials said.

The incident appears to be having a ripple effect across thenation as those responsible for courthouse and public buildingsecurity re-evaluate their methods.

“I know there are some changes coming,” said Chancery ClerkTillmon Bishop. “One suggestion is that employees come in the backdoor and people come in the front.”

Bishop said what they want to avoid is securing the courthouseat the cost of the county and court’s efficiency. He cited theHinds County Courthouse, among others, as problematic.

According to Bishop, Hinds County has three security officers atthe door of the courthouse – one running the metal detector and twosearching purses, briefcases and other containers.

“It’s a mess,” he said, citing long lines to enter thecourthouse when court is in session and the inconvenience of havinga briefcase searched each time a person leaves and reenters thecourthouse.

Any change made should make the courthouse more secure withoutbecoming a burden to the public, Bishop said.

“You don’t want to deny access to a public building to thepublic, but you want people to feel safe when they’re there,”Bishop said. “It’s a complicated situation.”

Calcote said he has been evaluating security measures at thecourthouse while more strongly enforcing existing policies andprocedures.

Among procedures receiving more attention is the metal detector.In the past, the metal detector has not been used every day courtis in session. It will be utilized more now.