- The Washington Times - Friday, March 11, 2005

Most local courthouses do not allow deputies to carry firearms while they handle prisoners, a security procedure that would have prevented yesterday’s courthouse shooting in Atlanta, law-enforcement officials said.

“For a criminal case, you’ll have two deputies in a courtroom,” Arlington County Sheriff Beth Arthur said. “One will be armed and responsible for [the safety of] the judge, and the other will be unarmed and will be responsible for the prisoner.

“It’s a safety issue. You don’t want to allow an opportunity for somebody to get a weapon,” Sheriff Arthur said.

Brian Nichols, 33, a rape suspect, overpowered a female deputy in a holding cell in the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta, took her handgun and shot her, authorities said. He then fatally shot three other court officials, including Superior Court Judge Rowland Barnes before escaping the courthouse.

Courthouses are much more heavily secured than they were 20 years ago, and threats against judges at the federal level have increased from 48 in 1980 to 675 in 2004, a U.S. marshals spokesman said.

Most courthouses use metal detectors at their entrances and do not allow any weapons inside. Some also forbid all types of electronic devices.

Prince George’s County was one of the first to install the machines, in 1980, and Calvert County was the last Maryland county west of the Chesapeake Bay to install them, in 1994.

Fairfax County did not install metal detectors until 1997 in preparation of the trial of Mir Aimal Kasi, the Pakistani-born man who killed two CIA workers in 1993.

Some courthouses allow police officers to bring their firearms inside, while others do not.

In Arlington County, law officers may not bring their firearms into courtrooms. In D.C. Superior Court, which is controlled by U.S. marshals, undercover officers may carry concealed weapons.

Most area police officers carry their sidearms in holsters that lock into the firearm.

Law-enforcement officials said the main way to prevent a firearm from being taken is to remain alert and use body positioning.

“If you’re dealing with a prisoner or a suspect, it’s [about] keeping your weapon and yourself at a safe distance and keeping your weapon away from that person,” said Scott Mergenthaler, chief sheriff’s deputy in Howard County. “In other words, your non-gun side is toward that person, so that your gun is always farthest away.”

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