Justice served safely
SUMMIT COUNTY – Courtrooms, by their very nature, are breeding grounds of acrimony. So the thought that a weapon could be introduced into that combustible environment is a troubling one.Staring sometime in July, that terrible scenario will become a lot less likely in Summit County district courtrooms as a beefed-up weapons-seeking security system will be installed at the Justice Center.In this new age of heightened security, you can guess what the drill will be. People seeking entry into the Summit County Justice Center in Breckenridge will soon funnel through a single security checkpoint, where they’ll walk through a magnetometer – the detection device that seeks out metallic objects likes knives and guns (as well as car keys, belt buckles and metal plates in your head). Bags and personal belongings will be scanned by an x-ray machine as well.”It’s all being done basically to ensure the sanctity of the courtroom,” said Sheriff John Minor. “You can’t have justice if you are in fear of people being armed in that court.”All county and district courts will come under the new protective umbrella – three courtrooms in all. There’s also a hearing room where divorce proceedings are often held that will be newly protected as well. Anyone coming to the Justice Center to access the sheriff’s office or court clerks will be screened, too.
New security screening technology isn’t the only addition to the system. There’ll be an increase in manpower as well. Three new sheriff’s deputies were hired this year, and all are trained in both detention and courtroom security. Minor is also sending his captain and some key sergeants to an advanced courtroom training session.Related to the new security measures, the sheriff’s office is also adding a new “video advisement” system at the Justice Center. Soon, instead of each morning transporting the “chain gain” of the night’s arrestees up a back hallway and into the courtroom, prisoners will be advised of their constitutional rights and the charges against them by closed-circuit video.”We’ll minimize inmate movement by about 90 percent,” Minor estimated.That’s an important improvement, as the chances of a violent episode happening grow as inmates are shuffled around.One of the worst incidents in American history happened last March in Atlanta, when a murder suspect overpowered a sheriff’s deputy and opened fire in the courtroom. A judge, court reporter and another deputy were killed – rattling the confidence of workers in courtrooms nationwide.
Minor said that there have been a few incidents over the years in or around Summit County courtrooms, including a few “tense situations in divorce court” and one instance where an attorney was threatened in the parking lot.”We just want to make sure that everybody is safe and that justice can be done in a safe environment,” Minor said.Judges Under ThreatMost threatening communication or actions against judges or their staff come from people angry about a specific court case:
YearIncidents reportedThreat source knownThreat source unknown1998790104 (13%)686 (87%)1999814109 (13%)705 (87%)2000702109 (16%)593 (84%)2001690126 (18%)564 (82%)
2002565101 (18%)464 (82%)2003585105 (18%)480 (82%)Source: U.S. Marshal ServiceDuffy Hayes can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 13611, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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