published Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

More security eyed for Bradley County courthouse

Last week the County Court Security Committee, which includes judges, prosecutors, clerks and court officials, recommended:

* the second floor doors on the Ocoee Street side of the courthouse be for exit only;

* the second floor metal detector be staffed;

* three more courthouse security officers be added, bringing the total to six;

* the basement be secured.

"We need to fast track this,'' Commissioner Connie Wilson said.

Commission Chairman Louie Alford said the first step is to get commitments from the two candidates for sheriff, since the sheriff's department assigns the officers.

What's next:

* County Mayor to seek estimates from security companies

* Estimates will be presented to the County Finance Committee

* County Commission to approve security measures and funding

Source: County Building and Lands Committee meeting

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Unwatched doors, an unmanned metal detector, easily available keys and too few security officers are problems that need to be quickly addressed, judges and others said Monday.

Four judges met with the Bradley County Commission's Building and Land Committee to launch efforts to beef up security for the entire downtown courthouse building, as well as the Juvenile Justice Center on Johnson Boulevard.

Until recently the silent panic buttons on the judge's benches were not communicating with the 911 Center. While that has been solved, there are many other problems, the judges said.

The basement garage is unguarded with access to the entire building. With three court officers assigned to the building where sometimes four courts are in session, there are not enough officers to monitor security cameras or to operate a metal detector.

The courthouse is unlocked each month during downtown cruise-ins, for access to public bathrooms. Keys are handed out to various people for after-hours meetings or to attorneys doing title research on weekends.

Concerns about Bradley County security come after a militia group leader in nearby Monroe County recently forced his way into a grand jury room and demanded President Obama be indicted for treason. When the man's preliminary hearing was held, there were threats to storm the courthouse from affiliated groups prompting dozens of Tennessee state troopers to be called in.

"This is on our backdoor now. We don't want it on our front porch,'' said Chancellor Jerri Bryant.

Bradley County has courtrooms in three locations; the downtown courthouse, the Juvenile Justice Center and at the Justice Center off APD-40, also the location of the sheriff's department.

Both criminal court and family court cases can become emotional, said Judge Daniel Swafford.

Issues before the County Commission can also touch nerves, said Dan Howell, assistant to the county mayor.

Security is not just for those who work in courtrooms, said Judge Lawrence Puckett, but for the public.

"We require the public to come for jury duty. We require people to come as witnesses," he said. "This plan is to benefit the public."

Much of what attorneys once needed to research at the courthouse can now be done online, said Judge Mike Sharp, reducing the need to distribute keys.

Continue reading by following these links to related stories:

Article: Man asks grand jury to indict Obama

Article: Bradley annex gets energy upgrade

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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