Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Old Courthouses and New Security Problems

Have you read the news reports about the plans to possibly scrap some of the planned security upgrades at the Fulton County Courthouse (which is located in Atlanta)? You will recall that, about five years ago, Defendant Brian Nichols, on trial there, seized a gun and murdered a superior court judge and two others, while making his escape from the courthouse. But it's sad how people forget such things! Now, five years later, it appears the local politicians there may scrap the needed security upgrades. Maybe a public plea by the deceased judge's widow, as reported in today's Augusta Chronicle, will force the politicians to restore the security changes.
We can hope.

Times have changed. Years ago, when I first became an Assistant D.A. in South Georgia, courthouse security was virtually non-existent. There were no metal detectors and no security command centers. I will never forget an old theft case I tried, which kept the jury out deliberating until late one evening. I recall my looking around the courtroom and realizing that all the Sheriff's deputies had gone home for the day. Only the 83 year old unarmed bailiff, Mr. Sims, remained as "security." And he looked half asleep! Thankfully, the defendant and his family remained well behaved, even after the jury returned a guilty verdict.

But again, times have changed. Today, in most places, defendants are getting more and more violent and dangerous. Courthouse violence has, unfortunately, become much more common.
As a result, here's hoping that Fulton County officials will make the necessary security changes for their courthouse. And here's hoping, too, that Mr. Sims is still alert, and at his post, in that South Georgia courthouse! Hopefully, at least, times haven't changed there!

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