Avoyelles Courthouse enhanced security may be here to stay

 

By RAYMOND L. DAYE
 
    For the first time in its history, all of the doors of the Avoyelles Parish Courthouse are being  secured. Anyone visiting the courthouse must go through a metal detector and can be subject to search. Before the new measures were enacted last Tuesday, only the courtrooms were secured -- and then only on days when court was held.
    The changes in security measures will remain in place long after the current community tragedy has been resolved, Police Jury President Charles Jones said.
   Jones, answering questions before last Tuesday night’s jury meeting, said the enhanced security -- including metal detectors -- was implemented that morning in response to “communications and threats that have been circulating” since 6-year-old Jeremy Mardis was shot and killed by Marksville/Ward 2 deputy marshals.
    “There has been an increase in the threat level, you could say,” Jones said.
   Jones said federal authorities have criticized the courthouse as a “security nightmare” in the past because of the multiple entrances and exits to the 88-year-old building.
  The Police Jury has tried in the past to secure grants to improve security -- including turning the old jail on the 4th floor into a defendant holding area where prisoners would wait for their case to be called on trial and hearing dates. Currently, inmates are kept out of the courtroom in the same areas with victims and witnesses waiting for cases to be called.
  The enhanced measures included deploying several additional Avoyelles Sheriff’s Office deputies in and around the courthouse and closing all but two entrances.
   The front entrance is closed off by yellow “crime scene” tape and the doors are locked. The Washington Street entrance -- also called the back door -- is open as the main entrance to the 2nd Floor, where the assessor, registrar, Police Jury and other parish offices are located. 
    The side entrance to the Clerk of Court’s Office is also open, but now has a metal detector and at least one deputy to ensure only those with legitimate business enter.
    Joey Frank, director of the parish Office of Emergency Preparedness, said the measures are currently described as temporary “but we will see. We’re not sure for how long, but right now it will be for at least a few weeks.”
    Jones called the current heightened state of alert an “interim condition, but there will be discussions on long-term restrictions of access to the courthouse facilities. The intent, of course, is for the safety and security of the personnel and the visitors to this courthouse.”
    He said the public should know that “there will be permanent changes at the courthouse.”
   As part of the beefed up security measures, visitors can be asked to submit to a “wand search” by deputies to ensure there are no weapons being brought into the building. They will also have to go through metal detectors in the same way that has been required of those going to the courtroom area on the 3rd floor.
   “Before, we just searched people going upstairs to the courtrooms,” Frank said. “People could come in on the other floors and go wherever they wanted.”
    

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