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Friday, May 6, 2016

Court shootings unlikely here -- but possible, officials say

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

- Acting Sheriff Larry Pierce has seen a prisoner attack an officer

A shooting in the Clay County Courthouse is unlikely, but local officials are saying that anything is possible.

Last Friday in Atlanta, a man was being escorted into court when he stole a gun from an officer, shot her in the face, killed a judge, deputy and a court reporter, then eluded the police before being taken into custody Saturday.

Acting Clay County Sheriff Larry Pierce said he was involved in a similar situation at Cloverdale, decades ago, when he was a State Trooper. An inmate complained his handcuffs were bothering him. The inmate was being friendly and Pierce and his partner didn't see any problem with removing them for a short time. However, when his hands were free, the inmate put Pierce's partner in the trunk of a police car and shot him.

"Some holsters are made so that doesn't happen or it's a lot harder," he said. In other cases, it's just one person overpowering an-other person.

"We hope we can do whatever we can do to thwart that crime, but sometimes it's inevitable," Pierce said.

Superior Court Judge Blane Akers agreed.

"I would hope that it wouldn't (happen here), but generally tragedies like this happen when you're least suspecting them," Akers said.

Until the recent events in Atlanta, where suspected gunman Brian Nichols is being held without bail, Akers said,"I felt very safe." He feels comfortable with the people in the community, but "sometimes emotions run high," he said.

The most disruptive Akers said his courtroom has reached is 'heated' verbal discussions, but never to a physical point.

During court proceedings, there is not an officer required to watch over the courtroom, however, Pierce said that an officer can be expected present most of the time during criminal proceedings. Officers are usually around to transport prisoners from the jail to the Courthouse or testifying, Pierce said.

Akers said no guns are allowed in his courtroom, but there is no procedure for checking for weapons when people are entering the courtroom.

A metal detector is accessible in the Courthouse, Pierce said, but is only used during high profile trials which don't happen often in Clay County. The metal detector was last used during the Orville Lynn Majors case because then Judge Ernest Yelton ordered high security during it.

The close proximity of the jail to the Courthouse is beneficial to security. Pierce said most elected officials and clerks in the Courthouse have a button they can press to alert the jail of an emergency.

He said this comes in handy during the obvious emergency situations where lives are in danger, but it can also be used when someone is raising their voice too much to a clerk and the clerk feels threatened.

Akers said there are other safety procedures going on behind the scenes, but did not wish to comment publicly on what these are. Safety is something to always keep working on, he said.

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