Bailiffs say safety precautions taken at courthouses

Matt Peters

“This place is secure,” said Deputy Sheriff Kevin Thorn at the Kent municipal courthouse as he demonstrates what a gun looks like when scanned by X-Rays. Certain settings help dectect firearms faster if it is hidden. However in his past two years at the c

Credit: Matt Peters

Local courthouse workers claim they do not have the same safety issues that were raised in an Atlanta courthouse where Brian Nichols allegedly shot a judge.

Brad Bailey, bailiff at Kent Municipal Court, said when he heard the news of the alleged shooting last week, it made him wonder whether security was good enough. He said he feels confident about the safety in his court room.

“Well, it impacts my job a lot, but I really feel pretty safe about our security,” Bailey said. “I can see how it can happen. You’ve got to always be on guard.”

Bailey said several mistakes were made in the Atlanta courthouse that won’t happen in Kent. During the shootings, Nichols allegedly used a gun he took from Sheriff’s Deputy Cynthia Ann Hall while she was leading him to court. The mismatch is a mistake Bailey said he wouldn’t make.

“They made some mistakes,” he said. “They left a 50-year-old woman with a male that was a lot stronger and younger than her.”

Kevin Thorn, deputy sheriff at Kent Municipal Court, said precautions are taken to restrict access to guns. No firearms are allowed in the holding cell where a defendant stays before the case begins.

A retention holster is used when taking defendants to the court room. The holster makes it more difficult to remove the gun without having practice at doing so.

“At that point, you’ve got to make an effort to make sure they don’t get your gun,” Thorn said. “Most of the people I work with use a retention holster. There are a couple of things that have to occur at one time in order to take that gun out of the holster.”

Before entering the courthouse, everyone is required to go through a series of metal detectors, Thorn said.

In criminal trial courts, handcuffs, leg irons and belly chains are used before the defendant gets to court. Once in court, the chains are taken off so there is not a presumption of guilt by the jury on the defendant.

Armed deputy sheriffs and a bailiff are present in the courtroom during a trial. Additional protection can be brought in if the case calls for it.

“Any violent type of trial, even a domestic violence case, would warrant additional concern,” said Robert Burns, bailiff for Judge John Enlow. “Any act of violence would be a red flag for us.”

In the event something would happen at Kent Municipal Court, 10 police officers could make it to the courthouse within minutes, Thorn said.

Even if the level of safety is presumed to be high, being proactive is the key, Burns said. Burns talks with Portage County Sheriff Duane Kaley on a regular basis to come up with new ideas for protecting the courthouse. Kaley has the final say on any changes made to courthouse security. The two are planning to meet today and will discuss the after effects of what happened in Atlanta.

“We’ll bring (the Atlanta shootings) out,” Burn said. “Not that we are Monday morning quarterbacking, but at times, you have to address the issues. We’re just critiquing. Being more proactive than reactive.”

Contact public affairs reporter Matt Peters at [email protected].