Deputy sheriffs provide order in Kent’s courts

Sean Joseph

Security for the Portage County Municipal Court in Kent is fairly routine, until a 6-inch switchblade pops out of what appears to be a cigarette lighter.

Kevin Thorne, a Portage County Deputy Sheriff who has been assigned to the courthouse for five years, said he found a cigarette lighter that looked suspicious on a man going through the metal detector at the entrance of the courthouse. It took him a few minutes to figure out how it worked, but when he tried to light it, a blade popped out and almost cut his hand.

The court, located downtown on South Water Street, has two deputy sheriffs stationed at the entrance while the building is open. Thorne said his job mainly consists of running people through the metal detector and escorting prisoners in and out of the building. He said it’s a pretty good gig that takes seniority to get because of the day shifts and full-time hours. Thorne had 18 years of law enforcement experience prior to being assigned to the courthouse in Kent.

However, working at the municipal court brings Thorne in contact with people from all walks of life, who often do not want to be at the courthouse.

“Some people are so drunk they can’t go into the court room,” Thorne said “Other times people are asked questions by the judge, and they don’t even know where they are.”

Thorne said the municipal court in Kent is a lot different from its counterpart in Ravenna because it is in a college town. It sees a lot more traffic because there are a lot more alcohol-related cases than in other towns. Because of that, Thorne said the court’s busiest days are the Mondays after Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.

After Halloween some people are still wearing their costumes when they arrive at the courthouse, said Deputy Ian Watson, Thorne’s partner. They are responsible for monitoring the holding cell these people are locked in at the courthouse while they wait for their arraignment if they could not post bond.

The holding cell is a closet-sized room painted gray with one bench. Thorne said sometimes eight to 10 people will be locked in there for three or four hours waiting for their court appearance. The room’s only d‚cor are metal loops that allow the deputies to chain up rowdy detainees.

Sometimes Thorne has to serve warrants to people who come into the court unaware that such a warrant had been issued. Other times people with restraining orders will try to attend hearings for those who they are not permitted to be near.

But Brad Bailey, who is also a deputy sheriff and bailiff for Judge Barbara Oswick, said the deputies’ main goal is to protect the judge. The deputies up front confiscate anything that could be used to harm the judge, and Bailey stands by her side in the courtroom.

“I have to assume everyone in the courtroom is clean,” Bailey said. “But when I’m with the judge, I never leave without another deputy in the room.”

Bailey, who has been Oswick’s bailiff for a little more that a year, said he has never had any incidents in the courtroom. However, tensions often mount when witnesses, plaintiffs and defendants are all under the same roof.

“Sometimes tempers get high,” Bailey said. “We have a lot of domestic violence cases that come through here and people get upset. They have a right to get upset.”

Thorne said the deputies try to keep people separated in the hallways and a victims’ assistant is always there to help. He also said it kills him to see domestic dispute cases with children involved.

“We get fathers that come in police custody and their kids want to see them and go up and hug them, which we can’t allow,” Thorne said. “A lot of times (kids) get stuck in the middle because their mothers hate their fathers. It’s amazing how people who come in for domestic disputes were once in love and now they just want to hurt each other as best they can.”

Contact public affairs reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected].