The Times West Virginian

January 6, 2013

Some inconvenience small price to pay for increased security at county’s courthouse

Times West Virginian

— Visitors to the Marion County Courthouse seem to accept a little inconvenience for increased security.

Planning to upgrade security at the Fairmont facility had been continuing for more than a year before action was fully implemented as 2013 began.

Eight of the 11 entrances have been closed, and new security measures are also in place.

A local incident, along with tragedies across the country, highlighted the need for heightened security.

On July 31, a man walked into the first floor lobby of the courthouse and pulled out a pair of what turned out to be toy handguns, pointing them in people’s faces while exclaiming that there was “a new sheriff in town.” No one was harmed, and the man was arrested a few days later, but it served as a reminder that someone intent on harming others could gain easy access to the building.

“We’ve always had a plan in place,” county manager Kris Cinalli said, “but I think ... that was kind of the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

There were also tragic incidents elsewhere in the country. In July, a shooter in Colorado killed 12 people and injured 58 others at a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Returns.” In December, a young man in Newtown, Conn., killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

“You can only get away with saying it won’t happen in Marion County for so long,” Cinalli said. “In light of Sandy Hook, you’ve got people starting fires and shooting firefighters now — even though it’s a little bit of an inconvenience for the public, it’s also to protect them.

“We feel that it’s kind of a responsibility and a duty.

The wooden doors entering the second floor have been blocked off and are no longer in use. The only entrances now available are the first floor of the connected J. Harper Meredith Building, the Magistrate Court entrance to the J. Harper Meredith Building and the “bus stop” entrance on Jefferson Street.

The first-floor entrance on Adams Street is not Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant, so it was closed down.

In addition, the Marion County Sheriff’s Department is providing two deputies to man the courthouse in addition to the officers on duty in magistrate court. Deputy Roger Cunningham, the first new deputy, said that his job is to patrol the courthouse and keep an eye out for anything unusual.

The second deputy will be beginning his term in the courthouse in the near future.

Sheriff Joe Carpenter said that the arrangement is the result of an agreement between the sheriff’s department and the various elected officials to come up with a balance between security and convenience for courthouse patrons.

The two deputies in the courthouse will serve in addition to three deputies already stationed there as bailiffs. When they’re not in court, Carpenter said, the bailiffs will also patrol the courthouse.

“Their job is to walk around and be seen,” he said, and to provide assistance to people trying to find the courtrooms or various city and county offices located in the courthouse and J. Harper Meredith Building.

Carpenter said that having only two entrances to the courthouse (the Jefferson Street entrance and crossing over from the J. Harper Meredith Building and its two entrances) makes it a lot easier for law enforcement to know what’s going on in the building.

Now that the oil and gas boom in Marion County is beginning to wane, the courthouse is also restricting after-hours access to the building.

Cinalli said that he’s received “minimal” complaints on the additional security measures.

No security plan, obviously, is perfect.

“In law enforcement, we train in ‘what if’ scenarios,” Carpenter said. “We absolutely believe that (something bad) can happen here. It can happen anywhere, and that’s been proven over the last several years.”

Courthouse visitors and workers, though, are in a safer situation now than they were in the past. A little inconvenience is a small price to pay.