On Aug. 4, a gentleman entered the Clay Superior Court Office apparently asking for information regarding a relative incarcerated at the Clay County Justice Center.
"He had been to many offices, including the Prosecutor's Office and the Justice Center, prior to coming to our office," Superior Court Bailiff Lori Furrer told The Brazil Times. "He was already agitated and when I told him he would have to go to the Prosecutor's Office for the information he was seeking, he became more agitated."
"There were no threats made but things were getting a little out of our control so I pressed the panic button we have in the office," Furrer said.
The panic button alerts officials at the Clay County Justice Center of potential danger and Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton said they respond as quick as they can.
"It all depends if we have been dispatched elsewhere prior to the button being pushed," Heaton said. "We were able to catch the individual down the road from the courthouse and gave him a disorderly conduct warning because he was just loud and obnoxious."
He added that because no formal charges were filed, the individual's name is withheld in accordance with privacy rights.
"That is part of why the situation was different because he never identified himself," Furrer said. "Plus with the events that happened a couple of days before, I was a little more inclined to push the panic button."
On Aug. 1, David Lee Livingston, Indianapolis, was arrested for making death threats toward a county judge, an attorney and a resident.
A tip was called in about 8:30 a.m. that morning, alerting the Clay County Sheriff's Department of the threats and causing security to be tightened at the courthouse and employees were told to be on a heightened awareness.
According to the charging information, Livingston allegedly told Kimberly Snowden he planned to kill Dee Mae Schutter for adopting his children, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Trout for issuing the adoption order and Attorney Eric Somheil for representing Schutter.
Livingston appeared via video conferencing Aug. 4, in Clay Superior Court, on three class D felony charges of intimidation. Geoffrey Creason was appointed as his legal counsel, a jury trial was scheduled for Dec. 8 and he remains incarcerated at the Justice Center on a $21,000 bond, with no 10 percent acceptable. A no contact order was also issued by the court.
Superior Court Judge Blaine Akers attributes the main problem in having courthouse security is a lack of manpower.
"There just aren't enough people available to have adequate security," Akers said, adding he is currently looking for a grant position in order to allow the metal detectors to also be used again. "The problem with a grant is that when the grant money runs out, the county is stuck with the bill and we would have to determine the value of security with other major needs like the upkeep of county roads."
Heaton reiterated Akers sentiment about the lack of manpower.
"We aren't able to have a deputy on hand during jury trials because we don't have enough people," he said. "There are a lot of offices at the courthouse and each have their own issues with aggravated individuals, especially regarding property taxes right now. But there are cameras on in the building and each office has its own panic button to use if needed."
He added many courthouses in the state do have some sort of security measures in place, but they have been able to work around the lack of manpower in other ways.
"During the arraignment process, the judge can decide if they want a prisoner to appear in person or in video conferencing," Heaton said. "If they appear via video, it keeps us from having to use a deputy to escort the prisoner across the street which also reduces the risk of escape."
Akers said he likes the option of video conferencing for a number of reasons.
"Video conferencing acts as a form of security because some people can get emotional, especially if it is their first time in a courtroom," he said. "The handling of the prisoner is alleviated and it is more timely in situations where we have many arraignments to process through."
He also said his staff has gone through training to handle situations like the one they went through recently with a level head.
"Most of my staff has been trained to diffuse emotional situations without force," Akers said. "We've used the panic button a couple of times in the past and we don't use it if it doesn't merit an emergency. This time the situation got to a point where Lori needed help."