Deputies find 975 weapons on courthouse visitors
Deputies found 975 weapons on people trying to enter the Durham County Courthouse in the first seven months of this year, including Tasers disguised as cellphones as well as guns, razors, knives and pepper spray.
They also seized illegal drugs from courthouse visitors that included a man who hid crack cocaine in his hat. When he removed the hat at a security checkpoint, the cocaine fell out and he bolted. But deputies tackled him before he could escape, and charged him with drug possession.
Since the courthouse on Dillard Street downtown opened 18 months ago, only one serious disturbance has erupted there, according to Lt. J.W. Daughtry, courthouse security supervisor. That was earlier this year outside District Court in a fourth-floor hallway, where rival gang members clashed, he said. One man was punched in the face and had his eye bloodied. Five people -- all gang members -- were arrested, Daughtry said.
Other than that, bloodshed in the courthouse has been prevented, largely due to the diligence of deputies and enhanced security measures that include cameras throughout the building and a recent program that trained all courthouse employees on how to respond in the event of trouble, he said.
Daughtry said most of the 975 weapons found this year were pocket knives, but also included scissors and a gun that a 90-year-old man brought to register without realizing he was doing the wrong thing. He returned the handgun to his car.
The weapons were found by deputies who work at the three X-ray and metal detector machines at the courthouse entrance. In most cases, those found with weapons were not cited or arrested because they apparently forgot they were carrying them, Daughtry said.
But some people are arrested in the courthouse. So far this year, deputies made 390 “on view” arrests – meaning they charged a person they saw commit a crime or because there was an unserved warrant against them.
“Deputies are viewing court dockets each day to see who is coming to court and is wanted on an active warrant,” Daughtry said. “It helps get the word out that unless you have business in the courthouse, you shouldn’t come here to loiter and cause problems.”
Daughtry said that on a typical day, at least 2,000 people come to the courthouse, and all are screened at the entrance.
The screening process is inconvenient for visitors, but “the last thing you want is to give up security for convenience,” he said.
Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said his deputies are keenly aware of how important courthouse security is.
“We want people to know that they can feel safe, and that there will be a response if there is trouble in the courthouse,” Andrews said. “We all know that things can happen in the courthouse anytime you put a defendant and plaintiff together, but we’ll recognize and approach that quickly.
“Our deputies have done an excellent job of recognizing trouble before it starts,” he said. “I’m pleased with their attention to detail.”