Region 8 Courthouses Concerned for Safety After Atlanta Shooting

March 14, 2005 – Posted at 4:39 p.m. CST

GREENE COUNTY -- An Atlanta shooting has courthouses across Region 8 concerned with safety. Friday's deadly shooting was particularly shocking because of where it occurred and has forced officials all across the nation to review safety procedures.

Greene County officials say they are shocked after a judge and court reporter were killed at an Atlanta courthouse, but it's just a reminder that tragedy can strike at any moment. Officials say the best thing to do is to always be prepared.

"What we try to do is eliminate the possibility and the opportunities for anyone that might want to cause harm to someone," said Judge Dan Stidham.

Security measures are tight at the Greene County Courthouse, but the sheriff says that courtroom safety relies heavily on the bailiff.

"The bailiff is the sheriff of the courtroom. They depend largely on him being awake and aware of what's going on," said Greene County Sheriff Dan Langston.

Especially when the cuffs are off. Defendants are without shackles for only a short period of time, and Judge Stidham says it's necessary for the cuffs to be removed for a fair trail.

"The defendant is presumed innocent and it is important for the jury not to see the person in shackles," said Judge Stidham, "That's where most bad things happen, either in route or through the transfer process from the holding areas to the court room facilities."

"It's observation perception; perceive everything you observe," said Langston, "You're going to have to stay on your toes."

The hallways and lobby to the Greene County Courthouse are closely monitored by video surveillance and secured by key card access. The judge also has a panic button at his bench that notifies the police across the street in case of emergency, but there are no cameras in the courtroom and very few bailiffs on duty at one time. Therefore, it's important for everyone to be fully alert and prepared for anything.

"You never know when who's going to crack. It's like a Dr. Jekell, Mr. Hyde. They could be mild mannered one minute and the next thing you know you have a machine," said Judge Stidham.

The judge said that nearly fourteen prisoners at a time are transported by only one bailiff, and as you can imagine that produces a potential problem. He said that he anticipates more funding from the county for extra personnel.