Delaware has been buzzing about the contents of a 2012 report, conducted by the U.S. Marshals Service, assessing the safety of the New Castle County Courthouse, and if the recommended actions included in the report could have prevented the fatal shooting that occurred there February 11.
Although the report’s recommendations are confidential, sources have told Delaware Law Weekly that the report advocated adding additional Capitol Police to the entrance and structurally redesigning the lobby where the shooting took place in order to move the metal detectors closer to the front door.
Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Myron T. Steele and Joseph A. Papili, the U.S. marshal for the District of Delaware, declined to comment on the report’s contents. DLW has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Marshals Service to obtain a copy of the report.
Although Steele confirmed the report’s existence, he declined to discuss any specific recommendations included in the report, including adding additional police and moving the metal detectors.
"The U.S. Marshals did a gratuitous review in 2011 and 2012 for our benefit on the clear and unequivocal condition that it remains confidential," Steele said in an email to DLW. "Only they can waive that confidentiality. Their reason appears intuitive to me. Therefore, I cannot comment."
In a later email, Steele once again affirmed that he could not talk because of the judiciary’s agreement with the Marshals Service.
"The Marshals’ report explicitly states that it is confidential and cannot be copied, shown or commented on without the U.S. Marshals’ written consent," he said. "I am told that condition is in all their reports, but I am in no position to verify that statement."
"I have seen our report and it is ‘confidential’ and we cannot breach that confidentiality without their consent," Steele continued. "For obvious reasons, we have not asked to be released from that obligation as we do not plan to tell the world about current or future security planning. We would be idiots to telegraph our present and future security plan to potential bad actors."
However, in a series of emails to DLW, Papili said that any information regarding the report’s recommendations would have to come from Delaware’s Administrative Office of the Courts.
"At this time the U.S. Marshals Service will not be offering any comment regarding the security survey or any facts related to the security systems in place at the New Castle County Courthouse," Papili said in a February 15 email. "We are referring all requests to the state Administrative Office of the Courts, so I would refer you to their office for any additional information regarding your request."
When Papili was informed that the AOC had claimed that all information about the report must come from the Marshals Service via a March 14 email, he responded, "The U.S. Marshals Service was served with a FOIA request for information relative to what you are asking for. Any information regarding this matter is being handled by our staff at headquarters, so I will not be making any comments regarding the matter."
DLW‘s attempts to obtain a list of names and agencies who received and reviewed the report were also rebuffed by the AOC. In denying DLW’s request, Patricia Griffin, state court administrator for Delaware, cited Section III B(11) of the AOC’s policy on public access to administrative records, which denies public access to security information.
One court security expert, Steve Swensen, director of the Center for Judicial and Executive Security, or CJES, a St. Paul, Minn., organization that specializes in courthouse security, told DLW that Section III B(11) should not apply to the AOC’s restriction from releasing the names of departments who saw the report.
"Although they are apparently entitled, and rightly so, to restrict the release of security-specific information within the review itself, Section III B(11) does not in my opinion provide for any restriction whatsoever in naming those persons, agencies and/or offices the report was provided to; nor in providing a redacted copy of the review," he said. "I don’t see how anybody could claim otherwise."
The number of agencies that received the Marshals’ report remains a mystery, but both the current and previous chiefs of staff for Governor Jack Markell said they do not believe the report was provided to the governor’s office.
"I do not recall seeing the report, I am not aware of the governor reviewing it during my tenure and I am certain no one brought it to my attention with any sense of urgency," said Tom McGonigle, former chief of staff for Markell and now a partner at Drinker Biddle & Reath.
Current chief of staff for Markell, Mike Barlow, also confirmed that the governor’s office did not receive the Marshals’ report.
"The courts could tell you better who they shared the report with, but I am not aware of it being provided to this office," Barlow said.
Despite the efforts to block the release of the report, sources in Delaware have alleged that the two Marshals’ recommendations were to increase Capitol Police, with one source stating that the report suggested adding four additional officers, and a relocation of the metal detectors to the front of the lobby. The New Castle County Courthouse’s lobby is where Thomas Matusiewicz killed his former daughter-in-law, Christine Belford, and her friend, Laura Mulford, before killing himself. At the time of the shooting, Thomas Matusiewicz’s son, David Matusiewicz, was engaged in a bitter custody fight with Belford.
It is not known how stringently the report advocated adding additional police and shortening the lobby by moving the metal detectors closer to the door, or if budget concerns may have influenced why these recommendations were not acted upon.
According to Swensen, a former U.S. marshal, comprehensive assessment reports identify facilities limitations, deficiencies and vulnerabilities; address site-operations risks and threats; and typically include recommendations and solutions based on short- and long-term planning. The longer-term planning is related to those items/measures that may initially prove to be cost-prohibitive.
When asked if changes to courthouse security were being considered, but abandoned due to budget concerns, Steele responded, "They were not to my knowledge, but then other branches do not always keep me in the loop even when their actions directly affect management of the judicial branch."
Steele also confirmed that in the wake of Thomas Matusiewicz’s shooting, the judicial branch has launched a post-incident review of courthouse security.
"There is a new post-incident review under way," he said in an email. "It is being conducted thoughtfully with broad input including experts. It is not a slaphappy, knee-jerk review based on anecdotal remarks from amateurs. Our employees have submitted over 110 comments, all of which we will consider as well as Delaware Homeland Security’s people’s thoughts."
However, the chief justice cautioned that the decision to enact any future recommendations could also be influenced by the state’s sparse budget.
"I trust you realize any changes will be largely driven by resources allocated by the other two branches of state government," he continued. "We do not control the purse, even the considerable revenues our court system brings to Delaware’s general fund."