Once-lers Anonymous

“It's not about what it is, it's about what it can become.” ― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

Shooting causes security concerns

on October 15, 2011

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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One response to “Shooting causes security concerns

  1. bretschulte says:

    Excellent idea to include the video, despite how hard it is to watch. It makes full use of multimedia capability of web journalism.

    You’ve written the lede very nicely. and it has good tension. But I think this story needs to start in Sebastian County.
    –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

    maybe “can be described more by the word “beautiful…”
    –has been depicted more by the word “beautiful” tattooed in script on her right hand than “disaster” tattooed on her left.

    Or maybe this needs to be re-phrased. but starting with someone in Washington county and then suddenly putting us 50-miles away is disorienting to the reader. Maybe you could say in nearby Sebastian County. But it needs to be even smoother than that.
    –But, on Sept. 13, an incident about 50 miles away caused everyone who worked in the courthouse to think about their safety.

    If these facts are well established (you could get them from police reports), you don’t need to cite the local newspaper:
    –, 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.

    clarify that this is a Sebastian county judge
    –“It was a relatively calm day,” said Elaine Stanfield, an administrative assistant to County Judge John Hall.

    good storytelling:
    –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.

    shot and killed? Or captured?
    –The rapid fire continued as the shooter left the courthouse, where he was eventually shot by law enforcement.

    We can surmise this woman is all right, but tell us anyway, and tell us what the woman did to avoid the intruder.
    –but Stanfield didn’t know if she had been able to take cover.

    In retrospect, I think you can start this story in Washington county, but I think you should cut the graf about the tattoos — only because it misdirects the reader into thinking this is a story about that woman. And make this graf more detailed and specific by basically saying explicitly the shooting in Sebastian county and that that it has raised alarms in Washington County, where security was just as lax. Make the nut graf newsier. And expand it. Give us a brief overview of how this has affected washington county — just a graf or two, with a quote from someone in washington co. Then get into the retelling of the Sebastian county shooting, and then bring us back to Washington County in more detail. (I think this story has good potential for the local paper):
    –But, on Sept. 13, an incident about 50 miles away caused everyone
    who worked in the courthouse to think about their safety.

    This is confusing. Are you talking about three buildings? Simplify this and tell us the difference between the old courthouse (and give address) and new courthouse. What are they each used for? And why does one have good security and the other poor? and give the locations.

    You say ‘had’. When did it change? and why?
    –The Historic Washington County Courthouse had three entrances on two levels and an elevator with unrestrained access to the entire building.

    Is there any reason to believe the shooter in Sebastian County would have been deterred by added security? Plenty of people try to blast their ways into secure buildings. It’s happened in DC and in cities around the country. We need an expert opinion.
    –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.”

    AP style:
    –x-ray device

    random capitalization:
    –the Sheriff

    This is a good story — very nice reporting — but it’s too long. It can be reduced by 25 percent at least. As good as the details are from Sebastian County, we don’t need all of them. that can be condensed. The last section of the story about appropriations and combining buildings can be condensed as well.

    And can we find out WHY the security has been so lax in some buildings but not in another? How did that happen?

    Maybe you can bring back the tattoos at the end of the story and make it about the people at Washignton County courthouse, whose lives are at stake, at the end.

    As I said before, if we can get this story into good-enough shape, I think we can run it by the editors of the NWA Newspapers.

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