Fatal OIS in Ohio courtroom spurs questions about armed deputies in court

The shooting of 16-year-old Joseph Haynes prompted an online petition demanding that deputies no longer carry guns in Juvenile Court

By Beth Burger and John Futty
The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy by a deputy sheriff in Franklin County Juvenile Court is a type of incident unlikely to occur in Connecticut or Massachusetts.

Neither of those states allows its court security officers to carry guns — in juvenile or adult courts.

"Our feeling has been that we go to great lengths to screen everyone coming to court to make sure no one is armed," said O'Donovan Murphy, director of marshal services for the Connecticut Judicial Branch. "If there's a problem, we don't want to be the ones introducing a weapon."

The shooting of 16-year-old Joseph Haynes during a scuffle with 43-year-old Deputy Richard Scarborough outside a magistrate's courtroom in the Franklin County Courthouse Downtown on Jan. 17 has prompted an online petition demanding, among other things, that deputies no longer carry guns in Juvenile Court.

Erin Davies, executive director of the Ohio nonprofit Juvenile Justice Coalition, said she is unaware of any juvenile courts in the state that use unarmed security personnel. But asking why officers need to carry guns in a juvenile-court setting where no one else is armed "is a perfectly reasonable question," she said. "I'd love to hear the answer."

In Connecticut and Massachusetts, court security officers carry only handcuffs, pepper spray and a baton. The officers receive exhaustive training in self-defense and techniques for de-escalating tensions, said Murphy, the Connecticut court security director.

He said use-of-force incidents typically occur every day somewhere in the state's system of 44 courthouses, but even the use of a baton is rare.

"I can't think of a time in the past 20 years where I've thought, 'Wow, we could have used a gun in that situation,'" Murphy said.

In Franklin County, the sheriff's office is not considering disarming deputies who work in Juvenile Court, officials said.

Keith Ferrell, executive vice president of Fraternal Order of Police Capital City Lodge No. 9, which represents the deputies, said law-enforcement officers should carry guns in an age when mass shootings have become more common across the country.

"I think taking weapons out of the hands of trained police officers would be a mistake," he said.

The county's use of armed deputies to handle security is the most common approach in courthouses around the country, said William Raftery, senior analyst for the National Center for State Courts.

"Deputies, by virtue of their office, by virtue of statute, carry guns," he said. "It's pretty much, 'We're on-duty law enforcement; therefore we're going to carry.'"

In Connecticut and Massachusetts, the court security officers are employees of the courts, not local law-enforcement agencies.

Raftery said he understands the concerns expressed about guns in court, especially when courthouse shootings involve a weapon taken from an officer.

In 2016, an inmate at a courthouse in St. Joseph, Michigan, disarmed a deputy in a holding cell and used her gun to wound her and kill two bailiffs.

In 2005, a man accused of rape took a deputy's gun at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta and killed a judge and a court reporter before going outside and killing a deputy and an immigration officer.

In last week's local incident, an FOP Local 9 official has said that someone reached for Scarborough's gun, Taser or both during the struggle.

The National Center for State Courts has issued a guide for best practices, including court security, but none of its recommendations include a prohibition on courthouse officers carrying guns. The only exception: An officer shouldn't carry a gun when in direct contact with inmates being transported to or from court.

At a minimum, one security officer should be stationed on every floor where courtrooms are in session, according to the guidelines. Scarborough was the only deputy on the fifth-floor Juvenile Court area in the Franklin County Courthouse when, according to the sheriff's office, he came under attack by Haynes, who was charged in two gun-related delinquency cases, and Haynes' mother, Karen, 41.

On a typical day, four armed deputies are assigned to Franklin County's Domestic Relations and Juvenile Courts, which are spread across 22 courtrooms on three floors of the courthouse and three courtrooms across the street at the Juvenile Detention Center.

"They're not assigned to a specific courtroom," said Maj. Steve Tucker of the sheriff's office, who works in the investigative unit and is overseeing the investigation of the shooting. "Those deputies will roam based on the docket, based on the need."

Court deputies check the daily dockets and look for potential conflicts that could create security issues, such as gang members appearing in court, Tucker said.

Orvell Johns, the county Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court administrator, said he won't know whether the court needs more deputies until the sheriff's office completes a security review that he requested in October. He has never requested additional deputies in his three years in the job, he said.

Johns also asked the Ohio Supreme Court for a safety audit prior to the shooting, but he doesn't expect that to begin until the sheriff's office completes its review.

Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin declined an interview request when asked if the sheriff's office is reviewing court security measures to consider changes. "It is simply inappropriate to have any discussion about that until this case is over," he said in a statement.

In Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, the Juvenile Court employs a team of 14 security officers who are armed with Tasers and guns, said Kevin Hardman, court administrator.

He said most of the cases in Juvenile Court are heard by magistrates in 21 courtrooms; just two courtrooms are reserved for judges.

The two judges in Hamilton County also receive security from deputy sheriffs, typically in the mornings when they hear delinquency cases, Hardman said.

Court security officers patrol four floors where Juvenile Court proceedings take place. They periodically check on a total of 11 floors where court employees work, he said.

"We do not have a one-to-one ratio," he said of security officers per courtroom. At least one officer is present in a courtroom if a juvenile who is in custody is making an appearance.

Unless officers are specifically requested or there's a high-profile case, Hardman said, "there is usually not the presence of a deputy or security officer in the courtroom."

Hardman said Hamilton County is using the Franklin County shooting as an opportunity to review its own security practices.

"We want to make sure we're training our officers to make sure they handle things the best way they can," he said. "It is certainly a situation our chief of security has shared with their security officers, reminding them of what options they have to prevent something of that nature from happening here to us."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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