By Robin Fornoff
CMI PROJECTS EDITOR
Jan Garrett said she was “terrified” last June when a jail inmate escaped her courtroom.
That incident and another that saw a man walk into court with a pipe bomb raised serious questions about security at the court; issues Garrett says she immediately addressed.
Garrett, who is running against challenger Raymond Mondragon in Tuesday’s election, accepted full blame for the escape.
“Because I’m the boss,” Garrett said Wednesday, “and that is what a boss does. I think the boss is responsible for anything that happens. That’s just how I try to live my life, with honesty and transparency.”
The escapee wasn’t shackled when he left the jail. The court bailiff who transported him was told by jail personnel of medical issues and the defendant’s inability to walk, Garrett said.
The bailiff broke protocol by transporting the inmate to municipal court without being shackled. Moments before the man ran out of the courtroom, Garrett said, “I saw him. He wasn’t shackled and I should have said something.”
Garrett, who’s been judge for 12 years, accepted responsibility in a written statement the day after it happened. The statement reads, in part: “I offer no excuses for what happened, as there is no excuse. It should not have happened and it did.
“I cannot un-do what happened. At this point I can only thank God that no one was hurt, identify why this occurred, and address the problems to ensure that this, and nothing like this happens in the future.”
The inmate was captured the same day.
Garrett followed up with inspections by the Clovis Police Department and a private security firm. Six days later she issued new rules, part of a single-spaced, page and half memo.
All prisoners transported to the court must now be shackled from the time they leave Curry County jail. Alarm buttons were installed in key areas to alert police. Court staff is trained to be more observant.
As for a man walking into the court three months earlier with a pipe bomb, Garrett said, “I think the only way we could have avoided that … is with a great and very expensive security system at the door.”
The man later told police he found the bomb and wasn’t sure what to do with it so he took it to city hall. Police described the man as mentally challenged. Garrett said he had been in the court before.
“I genuinely don’t think he was being malicious,” Garrett said. She added, “It’s really just a matter of … how much do you want to spend to make sure nothing can go wrong?
“I think we’re living in a world where, yes, it (security) is an issue. My personal issue is I’m not going to live in fear. I’m not going to live that way. But I also have responsibilities for others in here.
“We can spend a lot of money to ensure nothing can ever go wrong. Or, we can be diligent and careful and even watchful. I think that’s sufficient right now.”