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Courthouse security questioned
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After observing court proceedings, the Warren County grand jury is requiring added security at Warren County Courthouse.
The county’s Budget and Finance Committee approved $39,000 to hire three part-time officers as added security and Sheriff Jackie Matheny is in the process of hiring for those positions.
Only the front door will be available for public entrance into the courthouse. The back door which faces High Funeral Home will be locked and will have alarms installed which will activate when the doors are opened. The side entry door will have a key pad or key swipe entry for employees to enter.
According to the grand jury report, “There was no court officer in the hallway providing security during General Sessions Court. It is not uncommon for victims, witnesses and defendants to be in the hallway at the same time, and/ or their family members, giving opportunity for verbal and/ or physical exchanges between them.”
Grand jurors attending Circuit Court also thought there was a lack of a sufficient number of court officers available inside and outside the courtroom. According to the report, “They observed that when the court officer left the door to perform other duties, that members of the audience would go to the door and allow entry to someone outside that may not have been searched.”
Jurors noted they were searched upon entry to the courtroom the morning of court, but were not searched after breaks.
The jurors believe the lack of guards in the courtroom allowed too much communication between the inmates which could result in threatening behavior during court.
A positive finding from the jurors was the fact the court does not allow children under the age of 14 inside the courtroom.
Jurors found the Child Support Courtroom was too small and had no officer available. The jurors discussed moving these proceedings to the Administrative Building on Locust Street, and requiring a court officer to be present.
A juror reported being able to enter Juvenile Court 40 minutes before court proceedings were to begin without being searched. The juror also said Juvenile Court needs more officers. “Two court officers securing a juvenile for incarceration can leave the remainder of the courtroom at risk for violence or other illegal activity,” the report said.
Grand jury foreman Jeff Golden received information that many keys to the Warren County Courthouse are circulating throughout the legal community. He has recommended the courthouse doors be immediately re-keyed.
Other suggestions made by grand jury:
• Hiring a court officer to be used as a “floater” to walk the premises both inside and outside the courthouse for added security.
• Requiring women to leave their purses in their vehicles.
• Installing surveillance cameras outside the courtroom doors so guards can monitor who is at the door, and the activities taking place in the hallways.
• Asking the county’s Safety Committee, in conjunction with the Budget and Finance Department, to begin to budget for more court officers.
• Having a court officer walk with the clerk to make her daily deposit.
• Installing bullet-proof glass on the counter inside the Circuit Court Clerk’s office.
• Re-keying all courthouse doors.