JONESBORO — A metal detector sits pushed against the wall in the Justice Complex on Church Street; its lack of use a concern for Craighead County District Judges.
In a presentation to the quorum court on April 26, Judge Tommy Fowler said the metal detectors were purchased on June 3, 2020, with a $7,500 grant.
They were assembled but have yet to be put to use, although both Fowler and Judge David Boling have had several meetings with both city and county officials regarding hiring officers to provide extra security in district court.
What’s more disturbing to both district judges is a statement Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd told quorum court members. Boyd said court security officers have turned away five to six people from entering the circuit courtroom because those people were carrying guns.
Fowler said that number does not including the people court security turns away with knives.
“They stopped keeping track of those because there are too many to count,” Fowler said.
Fowler presented three videos in the presentation depicting acts of courtroom violence, two of which occurred in the district courtroom.
“We have big concerns about the need for additional security in our building,” he said.
Although both he and Boling have worked diligently to establish good repertoire and relationships within the community, Fowler said there are still times when situations in the courtroom escalate.
“Some people are just aggravated and angry because they feel they did not deserve a fine,” he said.
Although both district judges do their best to give everyone a voice, Fowler said sometimes that is not enough.
A case in point was the courtroom incident that occurred Nov. 22, 2019, where a defendant made it into district court with a three-foot knife hidden in an umbrella.
Fowler said another incident occurred on June 16, 2020.
According to a report from the Jonesboro Police Department, Kennedy Felix refused to leave the front entrance of the Justice Complex and kept repeatedly telling the officer on duty he needed to see the judge.
The situation continued to escalate as the officer denied Felix entrance into the courtroom.
According to the report, Felix then threatened the judge and also threatened to take the officer’s gun.
Fowler said those situations are concerning, especially for the clerks just beyond the doors.
“I hate to think what would happen if he had gotten beyond the front doors,” Fowler said.
Bill Campbell, the City of Jonesboro’s communication director, issued a statement from Mayor Harold Copenhaver’s office.
“The mayor has met with the judges and understands and respects their needs. He wants them to feel secure and is also looking for funds to better secure the Municipal Center and other city facilities,” the statement reads. “As to the district court, it is a cooperatively funded facility among all the Craighead County municipalities.”
Craighead County Judge Marvin Day said after last week’s meeting all the county mayors requested a meeting be scheduled to discuss the issue.
“We are trying to find ways to come up with the funding,” Day said. “One issue is that it is a city-owned building … and people want to know how do they want to secure their part of the building.”
Day also said there are security measures being used.
“Although security officers are not utilizing the new metal detectors, they are using wands to check people for weapons as they enter the premises,” he said.
Fowler said district court needs two full-time bailiffs who would be actual employees of the court.
“We would settle for one full-time and one part-time officer,” he said, noting the best-case scenario would be the approval of three security guards.
Fowler said the cost would be split between 10 cities in Craighead County.
“Jonesboro would have 68 to 70 percent of the cost,” he said, noting the vast majority of citations are issued within city limits.
For now, until the situation is resolved, Fowler said both JPD officers and Craighead County deputies are splitting duties.
“The warrants officers … are provided Monday and Wednesday ...,” Fowler said. “On Tuesday and Thursday, the sheriff is providing bailiffs.”
Fowler said the downfall is sometimes they have officers on duty who are not trained as bailiffs.
Fowler said he and Boling want to have court officers who are licensed and certified to carry a weapon.
“We also want them to have arrest authority,” he said.
“We don’t have a bank account; we have to put budget requests into the quorum court,” Fowler added. “We are good stewards of our money, and we are not wasting money on needless spending.”