26 March 2005

Innocent People Died Because of Such Stupidity

David Bernstein, over at the Volokh Conspiracy, posits that the stationing of a female deputy in lockup was error because of obvious difference in her physical abilities and the ability of the prisoner who overcame her and killed the judge, court reporter, and two others in his short lived escape.Personally, I disagree with that position. Anyone who has been in a lockup area in a courthouse realizes that whoever is put in that area with the prisoners is at risk of attack by someone (or multiple someones) who can overwhelm him or her. Any competent sheriff's department should realize this and take steps to moderate it.

There are two primary reasons for having a deputy back in lockup. The first is to make sure that the inmates don't start beating on each other or have a medical emergency without the deputy calling for help in order to intervene. The second is traffic control - moving inmates from cell to cell, from cell to court, or from court to cell. In general, a deputy back there is going to always have a high chance of being blindsided and taken down. I don't care if he's a 7' monster if the inmate hits him with an entirely unexpected first blow the inmate will have a good chance at winning.

That's why (s)he's the deputy in the courthouse without a firearm. While the inmate may overwhelm that guard, and maybe even get access to the keys, he's going to have to come out of the lockup area and face the other deputies (and quite possibly some police) who outnumber him and are armed. His odds decrease drastically at that point. Most inmates wouldn't even think of trying to escape and those who would can usually do the math. But if one were desperate and could get ahold of a gun the odds might look a lot better.

And that's where the real stupidity in this case is located. If you've been to a jail or courthouse you've probably seen the lockboxes where law enforcement stores pistols. For those of you who haven't they are a series of small metal boxes, just large enough for a pistol and some personal effects, with front doors which slide to the side or swing open and a key lock on the front of the door. A well run place has these somewhere that has another deputy or two to watch over them. An even better run place would have the keys for these stored locally rather than giving each deputy a key to his particular box (although I must admit I've not seen this measure put in place).

The stupidity in this case is that the inmate could get to the firearm. How in the world could he actually get to that pistol? I mean, you have to assume that whoever is in the lockup area can be overwhelmed. You don't intend for it to happen and take precautions to avoid it but the very reason that person is in there without a firearm is that you assume it can happen. It is unbelievable that you would store that deputy's pistol where an inmate which overwhelmed her could actually get it. There should have been at least one locked door (let's face it, it should have been on another floor) and one armed deputy somewhere between lockup and that lockbox.

It's not incompetence in assigning deputies which caused this problem, it was the stupidity of allowing him to have access to a firearm.


Mister DA said...

I think the problem is even more basic than he got a gun. He was being escorted to the court room without handcuffs or shackles to avoid any possibility of the jurr (or a juror) seeing him.

We've got similar issue in our courthouse -- no concealed routes to courtroom holding areas, no private enterences from the holding areas to the courtroom -- and we've told the sheriff to do his best on this, but public safety comes first. If the jury happens to see the defendant in cuffs or otherwise confined, we'll deal with it on appeal if we have to. Public safety comes first.

Brian said...

Why does it have to be one or the other? I think you are both right: Having that small woman guarding him was dumb, and him having such easy access to the gun was dumb too.

Mister DA said...

I don't think it has to be one or the other. Really. Just pointing out that the situation didn't arrise becuse the deputy was a small woman. It arrose because the defendant was being transported completly unrestrained by a samll woman. The deputy could have handled the prisoner if he had been properly restrained. I.e. belly chain with cuffs to the chain at either hip so his hands can't be raised more than an inch or two above his waist an no more than a few inches left or right. And leg shackles/hobbles.

Yasmeen Abdullah said...

Additionally, the judge pressed a silent alarm, which was not responded to by the security in the courthouse.