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The Fulton County Superior Court judges this week approved a $125,000 contract to expand a courthouse security study begun in the wake of the March 11 shootings. The new study comes on the heels of a $26,500 study conducted by the Williamsburg, Va.-based National Center for State Courts, which made a preliminary assessment of security at the Fulton County Courthouse complex after March 11. An Indianapolis-based subcontractor, the Public Agency Training Council, helped conduct the preliminary assessment and is expected to work on the extended study. Leading the security review effort are Chief Judge Doris L. Downs; Judge T. Jackson Bedford Jr., who heads the court’s security committee; and panel members Judge Wendy L. Shoob, Cynthia D. Wright and Ural D.L. Glanville. Downs could not be reached to discuss the expanded study, but she said in a previous interview, “The judges are very concerned that we have the best safety in these buildings.” The judges’ study is separate from a security investigation being done by a 22-member panel commissioned by the sheriff’s office. Headed by U.S. Marshal Richard V. Mecum, the panel is charged with scrutinizing courthouse procedures and reviewing the events surrounding the deaths of Fulton Superior Court Judge Rowland W. Barnes, his court reporter Julie A. Brandau and Sgt. Hoyt Teasley. Brian G. Nichols, 33, was indicted last month on 54 felony counts related to the March 11 violence that began at the courthouse. In addition to being accused of the three slayings at the courthouse, Nichols is charged with killing a federal agent, David Wilhelm, in Buckhead. Ga. Part of Mecum’s panel is conducting an internal affairs investigation of the shootings. The National Center for State Courts’ study will not look at March 11 specifically. Its initial security analysis of the courthouse focused on gathering information on policies, procedures, floor plans and departmental security functions. The National Center consultants reviewed three previous security studies of the courthouse, toured all three buildings in the Justice Center Complex and interviewed judges, sheriff’s office employees and elected county officials. According to the proposal for the extended study, the National Center consultants will spend approximately 100 days over the next year studying the courthouse. The consultants ascertained through their preliminary assessment that “the security needs of the court were more in the operational area than in the physical area,” according to the proposal. AREAS FOR FURTHER STUDY The group identified five courthouse areas to examine further: the sheriff’s office, the judiciary, court support and non-court tenants, building maintenance and the court administrator’s office. The first study was funded by leftover cash from an unfilled job position at the court, said Judith Cramer, the Fulton Superior Court administrator. The new study will be funded by state government money given to the Council of Superior Court Judges and earmarked for the 5th Judicial District, of which Fulton is a part. According to the proposal, areas receiving special attention will be plans and procedures for “critical incidents” such as hostage situations, active shooters, fires, natural disasters, evacuations and bomb threats. The consultants also will review panic-button response, judicial security, inmate transports, booking procedures, communications and high-risk trial procedures. The National Center has conducted security assessments in the Seattle Municipal Court and Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court. It is currently working on a security assessment in Miami-Dade County, Fla. Sgt. Nikita Hightower, a spokeswoman for Fulton Sheriff Myron E. Freeman, said the law enforcement agency welcomes the study. “The judges are at liberty to go out and do whatever type of study they would like to do for the courthouse complex,” she said. When asked if the sheriff’s office would cooperate with the study, Hightower said: “We do have the relationship that we can sit down and discuss whatever needs to be discussed.” WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE Mecum said his 22-member panel will incorporate the National Center’s findings into a list of recommendations he hopes to present to Fulton County in the future. His panel already has identified 67 things that needed to be done based on three prior studies of courthouse security in Fulton: a 2003 study done by the U.S. Marshals Service, another 2003 report done by the Dallas-based group Community Safety Institute, and a follow-up 2005 study also done by the U.S. Marshals Service. The second Marshal study came as a result of the shootings, Mecum said. About 40 percent of the items have been completed since the studies were published, which Mecum described as good progress. Among the uncompleted tasks is connecting cameras in several courtrooms to electrical power and a central control room for monitoring, Mecum said. He had been told, “It’s on a fast track,” but the work has not been completed, he said. The panel recommended putting holes in the 120 doors of courthouse holding cells so that deputies can handcuff inmates while they’re in a locked cell. The March 11 violence started when Nichols allegedly attacked a deputy and took her pistol after she removed his handcuffs outside of a holding cell on the eighth floor of Justice Center Tower. Mecum said the sheriff’s office is still sorting through bids for the work. Mecum said he hopes the National Center consultants will tackle not only procedures but also the culture of security at the courthouse. “When you go into the courthouse, you find a sort of lackadaisical atmosphere,” he said. Mecum explained that the sheriff’s office seems to have “excellent policies and procedures.” However, deputies are not consistent in carrying out those policies and procedures, he said. Mecum’s group will meet again on the morning of July 8.

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