Fear spreads as security lessens in our nation’s courts

Lawyers and a court deputy last Thursday were injured as a burglary suspect tried to escape from Orleans Parish Criminal Court after a judge raised his bond and ordered him to jail.Just a day before, District Attorney Eddie Jordan called for a safety reform meeting at the Criminal District Court after the Atlanta incident in which a rape defendant at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta grabbed a deputy’s gun and shot a judge, a court reporter and sheriff’s deputy.In the New Orleans incident, a 35-year-old man fought with prosecutors and deputies in an attempt to escape, but got no further than the back door of the courtroom. According to New Orleans Deputy Chief Warren Riley, Atlanta security handled their situation in the wrong way. "There is no way a 5-foot officer would be escorting a 6-foot 3-inch man by himself that is doing jail time for something serious as a rape," Riley said. "Under no way should an armed guard or single person escort an inmate into a courtroom." According to Riley, a meeting will be held with the Orleans Parish district attorney, the police superintendent, the sheriff, and the chief of justice. According to Riley, the meeting will call for tighter security and address other issues to help situations such as the one that occurred last week. "I can say that what happened in Atlanta will never happen here, because for a serious offense a person is in shackles or handcuffs," Riley said. "The procedure that took place in our courtroom was more efficient than in Atlanta. It took officers 20 minutes to respond to the incident that happened in Atlanta, Riley said. "Our situation was less violent and we had officers in court and they were able to apprehend the situation quickly," Riley said.The New Orleans Police Department is only responsible for municipal court and an officer is assigned to a judge for Orleans Parish. NOPD is not responsible for Criminal Court at all. Unlike their counterparts in Atlanta, sheriff’s deputies who patrol the Orleans Parish do not carry guns and no weapons are allowed in the building.The Louisiana law concerning handguns in the courtroom is that they are prohibited in the building. Anyone wishing to carry a gun must first obtain a special officer’s commission. When officers enter the building, or if called to testify, they must leave their gun in lockers downstairs checked by criminal sheriff deputies and no one else."That is because the courthouse is filled with people on trial for alleged criminal acts and having guns could create a more dangerous situation," Riley said.At the entrance, everyone goes through metal detectors and at the main entrance of the courtroom there is a criminal sheriff deputy manning the door. There is never an armed security person, so there is no way to disarm a security guard.District Attorney Eddie Jordan suggests that additional police be posted inside and outside the courthouse. He sights the Atlanta courtroom shooting along with threats of violence inside and outside the courthouse in New Orleans. Jordan believes that courtroom security should increase, especially in cases involving crimes of violence. "We must take appropriate action now to avert a tragedy," Jordan said.