A recent incident during a juvenile session at the Cedar County Courthouse led 28th Circuit Judge David Munton to write a letter of concern to the county commissioners.
Judge Munton’s letter, dated Monday, July 15, is reprinted below verbatim.
As we are all continue to be concerned about the issue of security within the Courthouses in the Circuit, I wanted to let you know about an issue we had in the Cedar County Courthouse when we had a juvenile docket on Monday, June 17th.
The day of court a man called Jeremy Ruddick, one of our Juvenile Officers, repeatedly and kept asking about a witness he heard would be at Court to testify against someone. The man would not give his name and they weren’t sure how he knew the victim would be at court. Due to the confidentiality of juvenile proceedings, they gave no information about court, the victim, or any testimony. The man became hostile and made a comment about how he would just show up to the courthouse. This same man called the Cedar [County Circuit] Clerk’s office and asked the same thing to [deputy circuit clerk] Stacie Spurgeon. She also would not give out information. Everyone was uneasy about this as he refused to provide any information as to who he was. When court started it was requested a bailiff be present. Deputy Tabitha Johnson came over. After looking through the docket to see who should be present for court, she determined that there was a man in the hallway who did not have business there and asked him to leave.
I would also remind you of the two bomb threats when Judge [James] Bickel was presiding Judge. One was Jan. 11, 2016 and the other I believe was shortly after that date by a couple of weeks.
Security continues to be an issue for all personnel in the courthouses in this Circuit. Several Counties within the Circuit have taking steps to secure the courthouses and it is because of issues like this that I feel we all need to do the same.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.
Very truly yours,
David R. Munton, Circuit Judge
Although he could not comment further about the specific case because of juvenile privacy laws, Judge Munton provided additional clarity to his concerns when interviewed by the Republican Thursday, Aug. 8, at the Dade County Courthouse in Greenfield. Munton serves Cedar, Dade, Barton and Vernon counties.
“Overall, times have changed,” Munton said. “When I first started in office as an associate circuit judge, we had no court security. Everything was open. It used to be you walked in [the circuit clerk’s office] and there might be a counter there or there might not be one for someone to stop, so it was pretty wide open. That worked for a long period of time.
“What’s happened is everyone becomes more nervous. When you came in here in Dade County, you came through security, and the reason for that is because times have changed. You have circumstances that have risen that give folks more pause.”
Munton referred in part to the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.
“As a court system, we compel folks to be there,” Munton said. “In these cases I sometimes require people to come to court. It’s not like they’re saying, ‘I can go there or I can choose not to do that.’ They’ve got to come.
“In every county in our circuit, we’ve had some events that have occurred that make all the clerks and all the potential jurors and all those other people just a little bit nervous. Sometimes the county clerk’s offices in some of the places they’re a little bit concerned because of the number of people coming through, and some folks are a little rougher looking than others.
“If you have someone who says, ‘I know this juvenile thing is going on,’ it makes all the juvenile officers and the other court personnel a bit uneasy, because there’s nothing that prevents them from coming in and saying, we’re going to take the kid by force.
“So I was just trying to make sure that they [commissioners] may not have known about that event, so I asked the juvenile officers to give me a summary of it. There was someone there who was not directly connected to the case, maybe tangentially he is, but it makes you concerned about whether we’ve got enough security set up.”
The Cedar County Commission reviewed the letter at its Monday, July 22, meeting. Presiding commissioner Marlon Collins admitted he was unaware of the incident Munton referenced prior to the letter’s receipt.
“We agreed there needs to be security, and we’ve been talking about this point off and on now for some time,” Collins said.
“Polk County, their courtroom is all the way upstairs. Their courthouse is wide open to the public. Any doors you want to come in or out going to court, you go through the metal detector. At this point in time, that’s kind of the thing we’re looking at. Judge Bickel would like to see the whole courthouse isolated and everybody funnel through a single door and everybody checked 24/7, and they’re doing it down in Greenfield. They’ve changed their whole system.”
Since earlier this spring, visitors to the Greenfield courthouse have seen the front steps chained off and are directed to a basement entrance, where a sheriff’s deputy mans a full body scanner.
“If we closed down our courthouse,” Collins added, “we’d have to direct everything through the elevator, because of the handicapped. The rest of the courthouse would be locked down, you could not go anywhere but through the back door. That means parking and walking all the way around, whatever.”
Collins said a security officer would need to be hired to man the door and check out courthouse visitors, in addition to the expense necessary to re-route visitors to the door.
“I don’t want to sound dismissive or whatever, but at the same time I don’t want to punish the rest of the public because once in a while some idiot somewhere in these United States does something. Look at the tens of thousands of courthouses in this country, and how often does something really happen? [There’s] less than a 1% chance, and if you have a violent situation and you have to go into a special lockdown or set up a policy of some sort of how you get into a special lockdown. We would look into that also.
“Jimbob [Sheriff James McCrary] is looking into some equipment, but no decisions have been made at this point. When we actually come up with what we intend on doing, we will have conversation with [Judge Munton.]
In discussing how much more security might be needed, Collins raised the point a person with violent intentions could attack nearly anywhere on the courthouse grounds — or elsewhere.
“Where do you stop? If I wanted to take out the judge, I could do it out there in the parking lot, I could do it at his house. If someone is bound and determined, it will happen. That’s kind where our stand is at this point.”
“We’ve had other officeholders threatened. Charlotte [Haden] has had a couple of nuts she’s dealt with as public administrator, because they’ve taken idiots on drugs that can’t take care of themselves anymore and put them into her program. She had one that was pretty scary, laying in wait and hanging around back of the courthouse a time or two.”
Looking ahead, as new policies, procedures and equipment are put in place, the Cedar County Republican will continue to follow all county changes and keep residents informed.