Saddened, but not surprised.
That was how area officials, who spend most of their working days in courthouses, reacted to Monday's shooting at the Hennepin County Government Center. And they said there is potential for a similar incident right here.
From planning and zoning issues to custody battles to criminal trials, emotions run high and all have the potential to turn deadly. Protecting against violence from a determined individual is nearly impossible. But there are measures already in place to make it a little more difficult.
"Security is always an issue," said Cass County Attorney Earl Maus. "Something like that could happen here too. Over the years we've had heated things outside the courtroom and inside the courtroom and thankful ly it hasn't come to that, but the potential is there."
In the last few years bailiffs are now in Cass County courtrooms for every case. A metal detector, the walk-through scanner to check those entering the courtroom, is staffed on high profile cases in Cass County.
Public spaces outside the courtroom, as with the case in Hennepin County, can be as dangerous. Maus said courthouses deal with multiple entrances and an individual could confront someone outside the building as well. Maus did not have an idea how much a larger security system could cost.
Maus could not recall an incident dealing with guns although there has been physical violence in the past.
David Hermerding, managing attorney of the Public Defender's Office in Brainerd, said three or four years ago a knife was confiscated in Crow Wing County and an individual was charged with possession of a weapon in a courtroom. But he said there had not been a violent intent in that particular case. However, Hermerding does not have doubts an incident like the one in Hennepin County could occur here.
There have been recent efforts, spearheaded by the Crow Wing County Sheriff's Department, to clamp down on courtroom security. Crow Wing County Court Administrator Darrell Paske said the county embarked on new security precautions and Crow Wing County Sheriff's Sgt. Todd Dahl was assigned the duty. Meetings regarding security measures included the judges.
"The changes are positive," Paske said. "There is still a ways to go."
Crow Wing County District Court Judge Frederick Casey said today he was aware of at least two physical assaults in courtrooms off the top of his head, where an attorney and a defendant, were assaulted. He said Dahl has taken a serious approach to analyzing the security at the courthouse complex.
"It's a very difficult thing to do in Crow Wing County because of the physical layout," Casey said.
Regarding the Hennepin County shooting, Casey said he felt terrible it happened.
"You want to feel court staff and people using the court system are safe in that setting but it's obvious we can't take that for granted," Casey said.
Hermerding said changes include the front row seat in the public gallery -- which had people sitting closely behind attorneys -- is now left open. Several law enforcement officers typically are in the courtroom and in much greater visibility, particularly during verdict announcements. And courtroom doors, which were previously unlocked when court was not in session, are now locked to prevent access back to the judges' chambers.
Violence may be more likely in a custody hearing or an order for protection hearing, Hermerding said.
Hermerding said: "If someone has a determined idea it will be difficult to protect against that."
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