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Packed holding cells cause security problems

November 30, 1999|By ERIN JULIUS

For more than two years, the sheriff's deputies charged with maintaining order in Washington County Circuit Court have struggled to house all of the defendants, witnesses and out-of-state prisoners brought in to testify during trials.

Before renovations started, six cells were available in the courthouse, said Maj. Robert E. Hafer, the Washington County Sheriff's Department's judicial division commander. Two of the cells were torn down when renovations started, leaving deputies with only four 6-foot-by-10-foot cells.

Plans for the renovated courthouse include eight new holding cells in the basement, which will bring the total number of available cells to 12, Hafer said.

For now, however, deputies struggle to separate the juveniles from adults, men from women, and state's witnesses from defense witnesses. Holding defendants and witnesses has been a problem since renovations on the courthouse began, Hafer said.

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One day, he had to hold 22 people in one cell, Hafer said.

When Raheen Edwin was on trial for the shooting death of Trisiviah Rodriguez in early February, there were so many prisoners that one was guarded in a hallway behind courtroom four and another was guarded in an available jury room, Hafer said.

Juvenile witnesses and out-of-state prisoners were involved in that trial.

Demetrius P. McDaniels goes on trial Monday for his role in Rodriguez's death. One juvenile female already has been summoned to testify in that case, Hafer said.

Juveniles and females must be separated, both by sight and sound, from adult males, Sheriff Douglas Mullendore said.

"It creates a real problem," Mullendore said.

The additional holding cells probably will not be available for another six months, he said.

To further complicate matters, juveniles also are separated from members of rival gangs, Mullendore said.

"It is very, very difficult sometimes," he said.

Depending on how many cases the courthouse sees on a given day, between five and 12 guards are involved in security, Mullendore said.

Renovations began in late 2004, and include adding a courtroom for a fifth judge and increasing the number of holding cells.

An elevator to transport prisoners and an access ramp with a snow-melt system, which will be used in moving prisoners from vans to new basement holding cells, also are planned.

The elevator will be used to keep prisoners out of courthouse hallways, and away from employees and the public. The county decided to add the elevator to the project, mainly because of safety concerns after a deadly shooting in an Atlanta courthouse.

As an added security measure, Mullendore wants to add court security deputies, whose primary responsibility would be to transport prisoners to and from the courtroom.

Law enforcement deputies then could concentrate on security within the courtroom, he said.

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