Security concerns prompt changes to courthouse access

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

The Curry County Commission voted Tuesday to close the front doors of the courthouse and channel traffic through the south entrance for security reasons.

The move was made in the interest of improving security by screening courthouse visitors before they gain access to the upper floors where the courts are housed.

The decision met with some resistance from members of the public, concerns that were backed up by Commission Chairman Frank Blackburn.

“I think we should keep the floor open, I think it should be customer friendly,” Blackburn said.

His was the only dissenting vote on the issue.

“(Courthouse security’s) such a complex issue and a costly issue,” said Caleb Chandler, commissioner and chairman of the Courthouse Safety Committee.

“This is not a recommendation that was taken lightly by the committee but what we had to consider was safety versus the inconvenience of people that visit the courthouse.”

It is a necessity of the times, Commissioner Robert Sandoval said, agreeing that though he hated to close off entrances, it needs to be done.

“We don’t like to see the front doors closed, but we live in a different time than we did when the courthouse was built,” he said.

Curry County resident Wanda Leonard pointed out to commissioners that the south entrance is the least convenient of all the entrances, with little to no nearby parking, making it a long walk to enter the building.

She also questioned how people would be able to get out in the event of a fire.

Chandler said the reason the south entrance was selected is because it is the only door that meets federal requirements for handicapped individuals.

All doors in the courthouse can still be opened from the inside, he said, making no difference in the event of a fire evacuation.

Doug Reid, a Ranchvale resident, said the move will not result in a flawless plan, pointing out that someone intent on causing a problem can still go through security and open another door to allow someone on the outside to circumvent the checkpoint.

“It just seems like we’re missing some common sense here,” Reid said.

District Attorney Matt Chandler told commissioners he has had numerous incidents in which victims and witnesses were in fear because an offender’s associates managed to get through security.

He said attorneys and other staff members also have concerns for their safety.

“It is an inconvenience unfortunately,” he said, stressing that security and safety had to take priority.

District Judge Teddy Hartley told commissioners he would allow the district court’s security equipment — a metal detector and X-ray machine — to be moved but said the courts would not be responsible for the cost involved.

“We’ll put the machine where you want it but we’re not going to spend any money,” he said.

Previously, Hartley said he would only allow the county to relocate and use the court’s equipment if county officials allocated three sheriff’s deputies for him to use at his discretion as courthouse security.

Caleb Chandler told Hartley at the beginning of the discussion that the committee would address the issue of more deputies later because it needed more review.

However, Caleb Chandler said that according to the opinion of the attorney general, “The sheriff only needs to attend when the court is actually conducting business.”