When should a court take special precautions because of possible violence among participants? That is the question in Minneapolis, where Hennepin County Chief Judge Kevin Burke reacted with anger and frustration to suggestions by county officials that a “harassment court” hearing that prompted a deadly shooting should have been held in a more secure location, says the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Hennepin County Commissioner Mark Stenglein and others expressed surprise that the court’s many potentially emotional hearings were routinely held in the Hennepin County Government Center instead of in other nearby buildings that feature metal detectors.
After Monday’s shooting on the 17th floor of one of the center’s two towers, authorities arrested Susan Berkovitz, a St. Paul woman they believe fatally shot her cousin and seriously wounded an attorney in a dispute stemming from the estate of her father. All three had been scheduled to appear at a hearing in harassment court that morning.
Burke said that he and other court officials have been “quite frustrated” with the suggestion that “somehow it’s our fault.” At yesterday’s regular board meeting, Chairman Mike Opat said the county needed more time to “gather the facts” before making changes, including the possibility of installing metal detectors. “Cost does matter,” Opat said. “These things are expensive.” Opat said he would not be drawn into a controversy with Burke, who said after the shootings that the violence would likely create a “firestorm” over security in the building and asked why more protection wasn’t in place.
The court meets as many as three days a week and deals with cases ranging from stalking and threats to love affairs and neighborhood disputes. Mark Thompson, the county’s District Court administrator, said the hearings include such issues as “you cut my grass and blew clippings into my yard.” Several county officials wondered why the court had not been moved into the new nearby Family Justice Center, which features metal detectors as part of a $30 million renovation.
Burke said the case that led to the shootings illustrated the difficulty of predicting which disputes might lead to violence. He said the case had been through at least two hearings, including a conciliation court appeal, without incident.
County officials said plans to install metal detectors near the center’s two elevator banks were formulated in response to the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Though the plan was again discussed after 9/11, the board decided not to move forward because it would represent a limited response to providing security at the building’s 37 entrances.