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Shooting increases security concerns – Final Draft

Since the Washington County circuit judge’s office moved from the main courthouse to the historic courthouse last August, trial court assistant Kasey Hassell has worried what would happen if an angry intruder came in.

“When you have a husband and wife going through divorce, you never know what could happen,” Hassell said. “Things get ugly.”

The 31-year-old has worked for the county for two years, sitting at her desk outside Circuit Judge G. Chadd Mason’s office and greeting visitors with a smile.

Hassell’s fears were validated on Sept. 13 after a shooting occurred 50 miles away at the Crawford County Courthouse. She was shaken after the security footage was released, showing a woman from a judge’s office running from the gunman.

“It hits close to home,” she said.

Mason had already helped initiate a reexamination of security at the historic courthouse and the Washington County Courthouse Annex before the shooting occurred. After, the sheriff began paying deputies overtime to provide temporary stopgap security at both buildings, said Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell.

People have become more conscious of the issue since the Crawford County shooting, Mason said. “It becomes more pressing.”

Around 3:30 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon, James Palmer entered the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Ark., with an assault rifle and two handguns. During his 12-minute assault, Palmer fired between 70 and 90 rounds, shooting Vickie Jones – a case coordinator for Circuit Court Judge Gary Cottrell – in the leg, according to police reports.

“It was a relatively calm day,” said Elaine Stanfield, an administrative assistant to Crawford County Judge John Hall. An unusually small number of people were visiting the courthouse. Stanfield was at her desk on the first floor when she heard a noise like extremely loud firecrackers, then screaming, she said.

Stanfield yelled for the women in the adjoined office to hide in the closet, and dialed 911 as she saw the shooter coming down the hallway through the glass door.

Stanfield dove under her desk, clinging to the wall as bullets flew through the door and into the empty desk next to her. Glass crashed around the office.

“You really didn’t have time to think about anything,” she said. “You reacted.”

Rubbing alcohol, from a bottle sitting on the corner of her desk, splattered onto Stanfield.

“I didn’t know what it was,” she said, “if it was me, or him, or somebody else or what it was.”

Palmer continued shooting as he exited the building. He was shot twice by law enforcement on the courthouse lawn, and died later that day.

“The worst part, for me, was not knowing what had happened to everyone else,” Stanfield said. The woman who sat at the desk next to Stanfield was down the hall turning in paperwork, but Stanfield didn’t know then that she had been able to take cover in a vault.

The Washington County Circuit Court judges G. Chadd Mason and Joanna Taylor were in contact with Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards and the county sheriff’s office to improve the level of security at the Historic Washington County Courthouse and the Washington County Courthouse Annex before the shooting occurred.

The historic courthouse, located at 4 S. College Ave. in Fayetteville, handles civil, domestic and drug cases. With three entrances on two floors and an elevator with unrestrained access to each floor, the lone bailiff and few security cameras weren’t enough to keep those in the building safe, Mason said.

Although constructed with security in mind, the annex, located at 123 N. College Ave., also relied on a single bailiff and limited security cameras. The Circuit Court located in the annex handles civil, domestic and some criminal cases.

The main courthouse, located at 280 N. College Ave., has one public entrance, protected by a magnetometer – commonly identified as a metal detector — parcel and bag X-ray device and surveillance cameras. Two to three deputies and a corporal are responsible for monitoring the surveillance cameras, operating the X-ray device and patrolling the building, Cantrell said. Civil, criminal, domestic relations and probate cases are handled in the courtrooms there.

Mary Ann Gunn was the Circuit Court judge in the historic courthouse when renovations were made and security issues were explored. “[She] really liked that building, and was adamant about staying there, even if it meant no security,” Cantrell said.

Because Gunn wasn’t concerned with the lack of security, no efforts were made to improve security at the historic courthouse or the annex.

Although there have not been any incidents at the main courthouse, Bill Miller, corporal supervisor of security, said the security measures are important. “It’s a show of force and a deterrent.”

“Someone that really wants to [cause an incident] is going to do it no matter what,” said Johnny Larkin, judicial security inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service. “[Added security] may make them think twice.” A similar incident occurred in Las Vegas, but the gunman encountered security officers as he entered the building, he said.

On Oct. 13, the Quorum Court approved an allocation of more than $300,000 to bring the same level of security to each building.

“I don’t think we could do without the security,” said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison. “It’s not my favorite plan, but it was the only one presented.”

“We definitely need security at the courthouse,” said Justice of the Peace John Firmin, the only member of the Quorum Court to vote against the allocation. “I’m concerned about the efficient use of the space.”

Madison and Firmin both want to see more thought put into a consolidation plan.

“The population in Washington County is going to continue to grow,” Firmin said. “It would be nice to have a longer term plan.”

The decision to move offices from one building to another falls to Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards, who indicated during a Quorum Court meeting that she had no intention of moving all the courts to the main courthouse.

Four deputies have been hired, and a new sergeant position will be filled in the coming weeks as the security devices are installed, Cantrell said. “The potential is there [for an incident], especially in the kinds of cases these people deal with,” he said. “They’re matters of the heart.”

A U.S. Marshall is scheduled to analyze security at all of the courthouses, Edwards said. “It’s when we become complacent that we get in trouble.”

“I don’t think they overly committed themselves,” Mason said. “It’s going to be very expensive to secure this building. …If we go too far in allocating money, and end up having to make a change, we are going to be wasting money,” he said.

Although her experience causes Stanfield to stop and think, she isn’t afraid to continue working at the Crawford County Courthouse. “I like my job and I’m going to be here, God willing,” she said.

Hassell will feel safer when the all of the new security measures are in place in the historic courthouse, she said. The newlywed of six months will be protected at her post, ensuring that her life will continue to be described more by the word “beautiful,” tattooed in script on the side of her right hand than “disaster” on her left.

Below is limited security footage from the Crawford County courthouse. Elaine Stanfield’s experience  is not shown.

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Shooting causes security concerns

Since the Washington County circuit judge’s office moved from the main courthouse to the historic courthouse last August, trial court assistant Kasey Hassell has worried what would happen if an angry intruder came in.

“When you have a husband and wife going through divorce, you never know what could happen,” Hassell said. “Things get ugly.”

The 31-year-old has worked for the county for two years, sitting at her desk outside Mason’s office and greeting visitors with a smile. After marrying Blake Hassell six months ago, Hassell’s life has been depicted more by the word “beautiful” tattooed in script on her right hand than “disaster” tattooed on her left.

But, on Sept. 13, an incident about 50 miles away caused everyone who worked in the courthouse to think about their safety.

Around 3:30 p.m. that Tuesday afternoon, James Palmer entered the Crawford County Courthouse in Van Buren, Ark., carrying an assault rifle and two handguns. During the 12-minute assault, Palmer fired between 70 to 90 rounds, shooting Vickie Jones, a case coordinator for Circuit Court Judge Gary Cottrell, in the leg, sheriff Ron Brown said to the Times Record.

“It was a relatively calm day,” said Elaine Stanfield, an administrative assistant to County Judge John Hall. Only a few people were visiting the courthouse, which was highly unusual. Stanfield was at her desk on the first floor of the courthouse when she heard a noise like extremely loud firecrackers, followed by loud screams, she said.

Stanfield yelled for the women in the adjoined Disabled American Veterans office to hide in the closet, and dialed 911. When she looked through the glass office door, she saw the shooter coming down the hallway.

Stanfield dove under her desk, clinging as close to the wall as she possibly could as bullets flew through the door and into the empty desk next to her, and glass crashed around the office.

“You really didn’t have time to think about anything,” she said. “You reacted. You didn’t analyze what was going on.”

Rubbing alcohol, from a bottle sitting on the corner of her desk, splattered onto Stanfield.

“I didn’t know what it was. If it was me, or him, or somebody else or what it was,” she said.

The rapid fire continued as the shooter left the courthouse, where he was eventually shot by law enforcement.

“The worst part, for me, was not knowing what had happened to everyone else,” she said. The other woman who works in the office had gone down the hall to turn in some paperwork, but Stanfield didn’t know if she had been able to take cover.

Since the shooting occurred, the metal detector from the second floor has been moved to the first floor, where the number of public entrances was reduced from six to one, and an armed deputy is now stationed there.

In Washington County, the circuit court judges G. Chadd Mason and Joanna Taylor had already been in contact with the county sheriff’s office and Washington County Judge Marilyn Edwards to improve the level of security at the Historic Washington County Courthouse and the Washington County Courthouse Annex to match that of the main courthouse.

People have become more conscious of the issue, Mason said. “It becomes more pressing.”

The Historic Washington County Courthouse had three entrances on two levels and an elevator with unrestrained access to the entire building. The only security was a bailiff and a few security cameras that could only be accessed in a few rooms, Mason said. The bailiff had many responsibilities that kept him busy around the courthouse, and there were times when the bailiff was not present at all. Individuals walking to and from the parking lot also had no protection, he said.

The annex also had one bailiff and limited security cameras.

The main courthouse has one public entrance, protected by a magnetometer – commonly identified as a metal detector — parcel and bag x-ray device and surveillance cameras. One deputy monitors the surveillance cameras, a corporal interacts with the public while operating the x-ray device and another deputy roves the hallways to make sure everything is in order as well as relieving the others as needed, said Chief Deputy Jay Cantrell.

Although there have not been any incidents at the main courthouse, Bill Miller, corporal supervisor of security, said the security measures were important. “It’s a show of force and a deterrent.”

The Quorum Court voted Oct. 13 to approve the allocation of $301,202 from the general fund to improve security at the two buildings. The funds will pay for the purchase of a magnetometer, x-ray device, additional security cameras and handheld metal detectors for each site, as well as the uniforms, salaries and benefits of the sergeant and four deputies that will be hired.

“The potential is there [for an incident], especially in the kinds of cases these people deal with,” Cantrell said. “They’re matters of the heart.”

A U.S. Marshall is scheduled to analyze security at all of the courthouses, and if he has additional recommendations, they will look into it, Edwards said. No building can be completely secure, however, “it’s when we become complacent that we get in trouble,” she said.

Until the new equipment is installed and the U.S. Marshall’s inspection is completed, the Sheriff is supplying additional deputies to serve as stopgaps and secure the buildings, Mason said.

The annex will be easier to secure, because it was built with security in mind, whereas the historic courthouse was constructed in the early 1900s, Cantrell said. Although it will be a lot of work, it is important to have adequate security, not just the illusion of it, he said.

Although all the members of the Quorum Court agreed on the importance of provided secure facilities to all of the county employees and members of the public in the court buildings, not all supported the allocation of funds.

“I don’t think we could do without the security,” said Justice of the Peace Eva Madison. “It’s not my favorite plan, but it was the only one presented.”

In the future, Madison would like to see consideration given to consolidating the courthouses into one or two locations, to reduce the number of public buildings that would need the high-level security.

“We definitely need security at the courthouse,” said Justice of the Peace John Firmin, who was the only member of the Quorum Court to vote against the allocation. “I’m concerned about the efficient use of the space. We have vacant space in both [the annex and the historic courthouse]. …The planning department, the road department, those areas don’t require security and that saves tax payer money by not providing that.”

The decision to move offices from one building to another falls to County Judge Marilyn Edwards, who indicated during a Quorum Court meeting that she had no intention of moving all the courts to the main courthouse.

“The population in Washington county is going to continue to grow,” Firmin said. “It would be nice to have a longer term plan.”

Mason felt that the Quorum Court made a good decision.

“I don’t think they overly committed themselves,” he said. “It’s going to be very expensive to secure this building.” Because it is a historic site, a limited number of things can be done to the building. “If we go too far in allocating money, and end up having to make a change, we are going to be wasting money,” he said. He expects the new security to be in place by the beginning of next year at the latest.

The hiring process for the new deputies and sergeant has already begun, Cantrell said. The sheriff’s department tries to hire from within, and has already began accepting letters of interest for the position. Interested applicants have until Wednesday, to submit their letters.

Those chosen will begin training right away, and the deputies from the main courthouse will provide assistance and onsite training at the annex and historic courthouse.

Hassell will feel safer when the new measures are in place, she said.

Although the incident causes Stanfield to stop and think, she isn’t afraid to continue working at the Crawford county courthouse. “I like my job and I’m going to be here, God willing,” she said.

Below is limited security footage from the Crawford County courthouse. Elaine Stanfield’s experience  is not shown.

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Human-made spaces

The bed huddled under the low-vaulted ceiling. Books peaked from under the bed skirt like lost treasures, accidentally kicked across the polished wood floor. The bed was made with a purple and green floral quilt, faded like the family member who had made it two generations before.

The walls of the staircase pressed inward on the space, threatening to overtake the stairs. The thick layer of blue carped failed to mute the creak caused by each step, like a warning to anyone who would enter. Splintered wood and exposed nail heads stuck out like claws to discourage trespassers.

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