Thursday, January 27, 2011
Fight in courtroom raises concerns
By SUE WATSON
The breakout of a fight in Youth Court Tuesday of last week prompted a flurry of discussions at the Marshall County Board of Supervisors.
County prosecutor Shirley Byers visited the boardroom saying courtrooms and public places need to have scanners on and security officers. The fight in youth court was said to have been initiated by an adult who struck a juvenile.
“Is there any way it can be budgeted for a security officer to be there when Youth Court and Justice Court are open?” Byers asked.
“Chancery court, too,” added chancery clerk Chuck Thomas.
“We need it in all the courtrooms,” said Byers. “I just wish we could look at it and allocate some money for the sheriff’s department to hire another officer or assign someone to cover court for the safety of everybody and to protect the county as well.”
Supervisor Willie Flemon asked why the constables could not provide security at youth and justice courts. He said it was his duty to provide security at court when he served as constable in the 1980s.
“Ms. Byers, in the future, if the judge needs security, call us,” said sheriff Kenny Dickerson. “I agree with you, security is needed and at school board and all boardroom meetings as well.”
Dickerson said he would pull officers off patrol, if necessary, to cover court security when it is in session, if the judge needs one.
Byers said the terms of court and dates are published.
“I can’t do it, if I don’t know it,” said Dickerson. “It would have to be overtime, if I have to call someone who is off duty. If the deputy is on duty, there would not be overtime.”
Flemon urged that a security officer work at the metal detectors.
“You never know what a person has got in their pockets,” he said.
Attorney Amanda Whaley Smith, who was substituting for Kent Smith as board attorney, said DeSoto County has a scanner for everyone who goes into the courthouse, including attorneys.
Justice Court Clerk Monet Autry, who was in the boardroom, was asked to provide a briefing on security at justice court.
She said laws were changed recently and now constables are not required to provide security for justice court, but rather serve as bailiff.
“Bailiff and security are separate assignments,” she said. “They are in and out. In fairness to the constables, they do more than putting the judge on the bench. They do assist us while they are there.”
Supervisor Keith Taylor said every court needs security.
“I purchased a security system for justice court and it is in place, but a person has to be there for it to be effective,” Autry said.
Taylor said people sitting and waiting for the judge to show up are liable to get angry and cause disturbances.
“We’ve had fights in the parking lot that start out as scuffles in court,” Autry said. “In civil court, an officer is not required to be there,” she said. “The law is clear about constables’ court duties. He is not required to provide security.”
Autry said her office calls for a sheriff’s deputy whenever a problem arises in justice court. The sheriff’s office is adjacent to justice court, just steps away.
“I not only think we have need for protection in court, but at board meetings,” said supervisor Eddie Dixon.
“These metal detectors need to have someone to man them,” said Taylor. “They are sitting there unplugged.”
Whaley recalled an attack on a lawyer in court.
“There was nothing anybody could do,” she said. “There was no officer there. In my opinion, justice court, circuit court and youth court – those can get very emotional.”
Autry reminded supervisors that all criminal felony cases are filed in justice court first.
“We’ve had capital murder cases in justice court and families on both sides show up and are together at the same time,” Autry said. “And they are there when the emotions are running most high. We have to deal with both families at the same time. That’s why security needs to be in all these courts.”
“We have been put on notice today,” said Taylor. “I know budgets are tight, but I think we have to get security in all courts.”
Supervisor Ronnie Joe Bennett said the judges should call the sheriff and he will provide security.
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