Deputies find 1,280 weapons since courthouse opened
Sheriff’s deputies found 1,280 weapons on people trying to enter the new Durham County Courthouse since the building opened Feb. 15, officials said Tuesday.
Weapons discovered at the metal detection stations at the courthouse entrance included guns, knives, razor blades, scissors, stun guns and hammers, according to Sgt. Jeff Daughtry, who supervises court security at the 11-story complex downtown.
Nine hundred and twenty-two people with weapons were denied access to the courthouse, Daughtry said. Others returned weapons to their cars and were allowed to enter.
Some of those who tried to slip through security were charged with carrying a concealed weapon, especially if they clearly tried to defeat the metal detectors, he said. Others with weapons possibly brought from their jobs, such as a utility knife or hammer, were not arrested.
“If they try to defeat the detector by not taking their belt off or emptying their pockets and we find a weapon, they’re charged with carrying a concealed weapon,” Daughtry said. The weapon is seized and kept in a property room until trial.
In the eight months since the courthouse opened, deputies have made 511 arrests inside the building. Most were people with active warrants against them. Court deputies served 217 of those warrants, and the others were turned over to warrant squad deputies.
From the day the courthouse opened, Daughtry said, deputies have tried to make the building safe. The presence of more than 200 cameras strategically placed on every floor has deterred disruptive and illegal behavior, and in a few cases, resulted in arrests, he said.
Earlier this year, for example, a lawyer briefly left his iPad and cellphone in a hall while he went inside a courtroom. When he returned, the property was gone.
He reported the theft to courthouse security, and within minutes, deputies had rewound the recording and identified the thief.
“The first guy that approached the property looked straight at the camera and walked off,” Daughtry said. “The next guy slipped the phone in his pocket and took the iPad. He went from there to another courtroom, and we were able to arrest him within a few minutes.”
Daughtry said the culture of the new courthouse has changed to one where it’s less likely for crowds to gather in hallways and outside the building than in the old judicial building, where there were fewer cameras and more ways to slip inside.
“If you’re coming to court to cause a problem or get back at someone in the courthouse, this is what you’ve got to contend with,” Daughtry said. “There are 27 deputies working here. The word has gotten back out on the street.”
Several courthouse deputies have been trained in crisis intervention, and a Court Response Team has been formed to respond to emergencies that could include a courthouse shooting, hostage-taking and other events that require immediate action, Daughtry said.
So far, no fights or serious violence have been reported in the building.
“There was one report of a misdemeanor assault and that individual was arrested on scene,” Daughtry said. “To date, there has not been a reported vehicle break-in in the parking deck.”
Durham County sheriff’s Maj. Paul Martin, who oversees courthouse security, said emotions can run high.
“We often have very volatile situations in the courthouse – people going through child custody, divorce, people charged with crimes, victims of crime, people being foreclosed on and evicted,” Martin said.
While it’s important to keep the courthouse safe, Martin said, he tries not to forget that the building is filled with people under stress.
“We try to reconcile security with compassion,” he said.