More security needed at county courthouse

SANDUSKY Violent felons, emotional victims, soon-to-be-sentenced criminals and their families freque
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Violent felons, emotional victims, soon-to-be-sentenced criminals and their families frequent county courthouses nearly every day -- and any one of them could be carrying weapons, county sheriffs say.

But only two courthouses in the five-county area screen those who enter for weapons.

Erie County Courthouse is not one of them. It has a metal detector that's gone unused for years because the sheriff's office can't afford to pay anyone to man it, according to court administrators.

Other county courthouses have fewer people, yet manage to screen everyone for weapons, sheriffs say.

Erie County Sheriff Capt. Paul Sigsworth said his office has one to five deputies providing security on any given day, including two who are responsible for inmate transport and are rarely present.

The Seneca and Huron county common pleas courts operate metal detectors at their front entrances.

"I thought everyone did it," said Seneca County Sheriff Tom Steyer.

Steyer said his office has only one full-time officer working security at Seneca County Common Pleas Court, which he said has two public entrances leading to a central corridor where the security officer is located.

"Sometimes there are no officers there, but that's very rare," Steyer said.

Huron County Sheriff Richard Sutherland said the most important part of maintaining security at the courthouse is screening the people who enter. He said a courthouse that does not screen for weapons is definitely less secure than one that does.

"I think the most paramount thing is the people coming into the facility," he said. "That's the most important."

The Huron County Courthouse has two full-time deputies working the building at all times, and at least one of them is responsible for manning the metal detector and x-ray machine at the only public entrance.

Sandusky County Sheriff David Gangwer said his office stations one part-time deputy at the courthouse on any given day, not including two peace officers preparing warrants on the civil floor.

The Sandusky County Courthouse has four entrances and only screens for weapons during special circumstances, Gangwer said.

Gangwer said he has concerns about security at his courthouse as well, but he doesn't have the budget to hire more people.

"I've told the commissioners and the judges that they need more people," he said. "There should be at least three working there at all times."

Ottawa County Sheriff Bob Bratton said his office has one full-time deputy at the county courthouse, which does not have a mandatory weapon screening. But during emotional hearings like sentencing hearings, additional deputies are added and courtroom visitors are screened in most cases, he said.

During his sentencing Thursday at Erie County Common Pleas Court, convicted drug dealer Trevor Webb fled the courthouse.

He ran down two flights of steps from Judge Tygh Tone's third floor courtroom, knocking down at least one person before exiting through the front entrance into the streets of Sandusky.

Webb was out on bail before his hearing and was never searched for weapons before entering the courthouse, court officials said. He was found to be unarmed when he was caught by two civilians 20 minutes later.