Once-lers Anonymous

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

Shooting increases security concerns – Final Draft

on October 25, 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 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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One response to “Shooting increases security concerns – Final Draft

  1. Bret Schulte says:

    should be has “wondered” or “worried about”
    –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.

    this is better:
    –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.

    hyphen:
    –reexamination

    very good storytelling at the top of this. You’re using quotes very well.

    good:
    –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.”

    I hate to say it, because this is the product of good reporting and is really well-written, but I think this should be greatly condensed, or removed. This story just doesn’t require that level of detail about the shooting in crawford county. this story is about what’s happening in washington county as a result:
    –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.

    this is a good story. i do think the top need to spell out with more specifics that the washington county courthouse authorities are making security upgrades as a result of the crawford county shooting.

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