published Thursday, February 21st, 2013

Hamilton County commissioners say more court security needed

Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Hamilton County Commissioners during a commission meeting in this file photo.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In other business

The commission approved the $17,018 purchase of ballots for the Chattanooga mayoral and Collegedale elections, for which the county will be reimbursed.

The commission approved the $24,704 purchase of 18 Tasers for the sheriff's office, paid for by a federal grant.

Accepted a $141,735 bid from Lee Co. to replace a cooling tower on the Hamilton County Justice Building.

Wednesday was proclaimed Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin M. Taylor day, during a presentation on Black History Month.

March was proclaimed Myeloma Awareness Month.

The Loftis Middle School cheerleaders were recognized for winning a national cheerleading championship.

Hamilton County Sessions Court judges soon will be doling out justice behind a bulletproof bench in courtroom No. 6, but some commissioners say the high-dollar seat doesn't solve all the safety issues plaguing the makeshift courtroom.

Commissioners unanimously approved building the new, $8,000 bench Wednesday at their regularly scheduled meeting, but two commissioners cast their votes with concerns.

The courtroom once was a jury assembly room, but it was converted to hold court. As a result, it lacks some of the safety and access features standard in most courtrooms.

Commissioners Jim Fields and Joe Graham voted to approve the resolution, but each took issue with it.

"I think it's a very minimum procedure for addressing an issue in the courthouse. But it's what we can do right now to alleviate some of the concerns we have for the judges' safety over there," Fields said.

Saying he supported the measure, Graham said there was more work to be done.

"I'm very disappointed because I feel like we are putting a Band-Aid on an open wound. And I think we do have a large security issue over there that needs to be addressed," Graham said.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond, who is charged by the state Constitution to protect Hamilton County's judges, said in a phone interview Wednesday there are some clear security issues in courtroom No. 6.

Because the room was converted from a relatively low-security function, it lacks what Hammond called "passive security."

Hammond said the commission was responsible for the structure of the courthouse, and he had to work around what they decided.

"I'm not going to relax the security I provide, but that room is less than desired, as far as security," Hammond said.

Sessions Court Judge Clarence Shattuck said the room was less secure than other courtrooms, but changes would improve security. The orientation of the room is going to be reversed when the new bench is built, which will offer judges "not quite the exposure" in a crisis situation.

Sessions Court handles low-level criminal and civil cases, but Shattuck said there still is some concern for security.

"You have some, because people, especially some types of cases, where people get upset," Shattuck said.

Commissioner Greg Beck, who chairs the commission's buildings and grounds committee and works as a City Court officer, said there are safety issues, but they are not "earth-shattering."

"We've had this situation over there like this even before there were [metal detectors]. The scanners were only put in about eight years ago, and we've never had problems before then," Beck said. "Nowhere is completely safe, but you do the best you can."

about Louie Brogdon...

Louie Brogdon began reporting with the Chattanooga Times Free Press in February 2013. Before he came to the Scenic City, Louie lived on St. Simons Island, Ga. and covered crime, courts, environment and government at the Brunswick News, a 17,000-circulation daily on the Georgia coast. While there, he was awarded for investigative reporting on police discipline and other law enforcement issues by the Georgia Press Association. For the Times Free Press, Louie covers Hamilton County ...

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