Long before last Friday’s carnage at Atlanta’s Fulton County Courthouse in which a judge, a court reporter and a sheriff’s deputy were killed, the jail where the suspect was housed and the courtroom where the first shootings occurred were beset with security problems, the New York Times reports. Lawyers and law enforcement experts who say that security in the courthouse, the responsibility of the Fulton County sheriff’s office, has been lax for too long. “Procedurally, they don’t know what they’re doing,” said Dennis Scheib, a criminal defense lawyer and former deputy sheriff. He has watched lone deputies, their guns on their hips, enter cells with eight or nine inmates.
Brian Nichols, 33, a 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound former linebacker, was being escorted to court by Cynthia Hall, 51, a 5-foot-tall sheriff’s deputy. After Hall removed Nichols’s handcuffs, he overpowered her, took her gun and left her with a fractured skull. Nichols was captured on Saturday. Robert Castelli, who teaches police procedure at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that the Atlanta sheriff’s office appeared to have violated most of the accepted guidelines for transporting prisoners. Experts recommend that prisoners be shackled at the waist and ankles, with their handcuffs attached to the waist. Officers should typically disarm themselves if they are going to be in close quarters with a prisoner, and an armed officer should observe from a distance. An officer should never be alone with a prisoner. In recent months, at least three defendants have fled the Atlanta courthouse. In 2003, a lawyer was beaten in a courtroom by his client. A March 14 summary of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s review of courthouse security concerns can be seen in the Crime and Justice News Archives, http://cjj.mn-8.net.