North Carolina County Looks to Improve Security Measures in Courtroom

Jul. 14--Joe Mayberry and Steve Wallace watch over a Craven County district courtroom. They keep a sentry eye on shackled prisoners transferred from the jail to the courtroom and they are happy the courthouse soon will be equipped with more security measures.

The modern security devices are a relief to bailiffs, especially in light of the latest courtroom killing in rural Northampton County Wednesday in northeast North Carolina.

A prisoner wrestled a gun from a bailiff, shot a correctional officer, and the man was shot and killed by a bailiff.

Right now in Craven County, the bailiffs are the last line of defense in the five district courtrooms. There are armed police officers and highway patrol troopers seated in the courtroom offering a sense of safety, but soon there will be tighter security to handle an unruly prisoner or an act of courtroom violence.

Craven County Commissioners recently allocated $100,000 to the Sheriff's office to beef up security in the county's six courtrooms.

"The money will enhance security at the courthouse. Some of the items include cameras in strategic areas and screening devices similar to those passengers walk through in airports," said Harold Blizzard, Craven County manager.

The latest security measure for courtrooms is signs that went up several months ago. The signs alert the public that no large bags or bundles are allowed; people entering the courtroom should have a picture ID; and people may be searched for weapons, explosives or other prohibited items. "These are modern days," Mayberry said. "Many people have no respect for the business conducted in courtroom."

He said the security system will have swipe cards for court officials.

"As for everyone else, once they leave the courtroom, they must go through security procedures again before entering the courthouse," Mayberry said.

Lt. Dalton Hardison, a bailiff in Superior Court, is credited with developing the sign now on courtroom doors.

"Nothing bad has happened yet, but it will happen eventually," Hardison said on why the signs were needed.

Capt. Duke Netko said he walked Blizzard and Assistant County Manager Ray Moser through the court facilities, showing them the needs at the courthouse.

Plans call for all doors to be locked with officials having keys. He said the locks are being changed now, and work should be completed next week. Also, metal detectors will be at each main entrance, Netko said.

(Sun Journal (New Bern, NC)(KRT) -- 07/17/06)