Security Tightened around South Dakota Supreme Court

Security for state Supreme Court sessions is so tight it can even be challenging to exit Northern State University's Johnson Fine Arts Center.

On Tuesday morning, a couple of people discovered exiting the building was tougher than expected. Long poles running across doors prevent the portals from swinging open. But because the poles are unexpected and difficult to see, folks occasionally failed as they tried to open exits and leave. The reason the poles are in place is to prevent people from entering JFAC by using entrances that don't have metal detectors directly inside the doors. When the poles are in place, law enforcers have to remove them to let people out.

Even before entering JFAC, it's easy to see security is high. Tuesday morning, 11 law enforcement vehicles were parked outside. And access to the parking lot was limited, as it will be again today.

Once inside, all people must go through metal detectors and uniformed officers are numerous.

Justice Judith Meierhenry said similar measures are taken at the Supreme Court Chambers in Pierre. But security is more obvious this week because there are so many ways to access JFAC and the auditorium in which arguments are heard.

The South Dakota Highway Patrol is in charge of security. The Aberdeen Police Department and Brown County Sheriff's Department help out.

During arguments, uniformed officers are posted near most exits. They are assisted by others, including college students, who talk to audience members when there are minor problems, such as people chatting during arguments.

Outside the auditorium are more officers who keep an eye on nearly everything happening in hallways and other JFAC rooms. They also guard the room that serves as the justices' chambers.

Before this week's session started, dogs that can detect explosives went through the building.

Unfortunately, Chief Justice David Gilbertson said, there have been instances of judges and their families being harmed or threatened. Hence, the security.

Earlier this year, the husband and mother of a federal court judge were found murdered in Chicago. Also this year, a shooting at an Atlanta courthouse resulted in the death of a judge, court

Meierhenry said that years ago, a judge was shot in the Black Hills. She also remembers a North Dakota judge being shot.

In addition to about a dozen uniformed officers helping Tuesday morning, there were also some plain-clothed security workers.

Doug Dreyer is an Associated Press photographer who has been to Supreme Court sessions in Pierre and on other campuses. He said he saw an officer Monday in uniform who on Tuesday was dressed like a college student and sitting in the crowd.

Dreyer said there are far more officers helping with security this week than he's seen before. But, like Meierhenry, he said that's probably because JFAC has so many ways in and out.

Despite heavy security, Dreyer said things moved smoothly. Even though his gear included a camera and laptop computer, he said he wasn't held up for long. And lines Tuesday morning were short and quick-moving.

The Supreme Court wraps up its visit to Aberdeen today.