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Monies sought for courtroom security

November 21, 1997

Monies sought for courtroom security

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County will beef up courtroom security if a $37,038 grant prepared by the sheriff's department is approved.

The county commission Thursday approved an application to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals that would be used to buy walk-through and handheld scanners, bulletproof barriers and other equipment for the two circuit courts, magistrates' and law masters' offices.

"We're not asking for additional personnel. We're not asking for additional salaries," Cpl. Greg Scappini told the commission. The walk-through and handheld detectors would be used by bailiffs to screen people coming into the buildings.

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Right now there is a walk-through metal detector outside the second-floor courtroom of the courthouse, but it doesn't work very well and is rarely used, according to Sheriff Ronald L. Jones.

"I'm not in favor of buying a lot of equipment. I don't care who pays for it if we don't use it," Commissioner Robert L. Burkhart said.

Prior to talking with the commission about the grant, he said courthouse security should be like that at the federal court building, where all visitors enter and are screened at the same entrance.

Scappini said the grant application also calls for bulletproof glass in some courtroom windows, and bulletproof protection inside the courtrooms where judges, staff and others could seek protection in an emergency.

There would also be combination locks on some doors to restrict public access to some areas and panic buttons for judges, magistrates, law masters and staff.

Jones said the judges, magistrates and law masters have signed on to the application. There is, however, only $1 million available for the entire state and the county was turned down for the same grant last year, he said.

Jones noted before the meeting that a man had been arrested recently in Jefferson County for allegedly threatening a magistrate and a judge.

According to court records, Eugene James of Charles Town, W.Va., made the threats against Judge Thomas Steptoe and Magistrate Gail Boober while being arrested Nov. 2 for public drunkenness. He was also charged with three counts of assault in connection with his arrest.

"You have to be ready at all times," Jones said.

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