Most court security staff nationwide are armed with guns, but in Rhode Island, deputy sheriffs are barred from carrying guns inside state courthouses.
Katie Mulvaney Journal Staff Writer kmulvane
PROVIDENCE, R.I. After two Superior Court appearances were quickly followed by shootings, discussions are afoot in the state judiciary about changing the policy that bars deputy sheriffs from carrying guns. One of the episodes ended in a 22-year-old man’s murder at the Chad Brown housing complex minutes after he attended an arraignment. The other resulted in a brazen midday shooting in downtown Providence, just a block from the courthouse, leaving a Pawtucket man seriously injured and courthouse staff shaken. The incidents have sparked renewed discussion about the courts’ gun policy.
“It’s something we talk about with the judiciary. … We want to be proactive,” said state police Lt. Col. Kevin M. Barry, commanding officer of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Division of Sheriffs and the Capitol Police.
The issue is under review by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul A. Suttell and the other state court chiefs following a recent meeting with state police Col. Ann Assumpico, Barry, and the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association board, Supreme Court administrator J. Joseph Baxter Jr. said last week. Baxter emphasized that the violence did not occur inside a courthouse.
“At no instance has it been a breach of courthouse security,” he said. “Our main objective is to be able to maintain a safe venue for people to have their disputes heard. Obviously, the sheriffs and the Capitol Police are an integral part.”
“We’re of a similar mindset. It’s worthy of discussion,” Barry said of the police chiefs’ association, whose leadership declined comment. Sheriffs provide courtroom security, transport defendants to and from prison, and stand watch over juries. As things stand, deputies’ guns are secured in strategic locations in courthouses for retrieval if needed.
Barry noted concerns about suspects potentially seizing weapons from sheriffs, but said holster improvements now make it difficult for a weapon to be removed. Even so, Baxter wondered: “By allowing weapons in, would they get in the hands of the wrong person?”
The no-weapons policy has been in place since 2003, when then Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. William issued an executive order barring anyone, other than the Capitol Police, from carrying any weapons in courthouses. The order came after a security review of state courts by the U.S. Marshals Service. Before that, police could carry guns in the courts, and each high sheriff set a different weapons policy for that county s courthouse, according to Craig Berke, courts spokesman.
Capitol Police, who carry guns, screen all visitors before they enter courthouses. Staff and lawyers swipe in via a card key, but are not screened. Law enforcement officers sign in and check their guns. Since 2015, some deputy sheriffs have carried Tasers in addition to batons, pepper spray and handcuffs. The Tasers deliver a jolt of electricity that incapacitates by disrupting muscle control. Sixty-four sheriffs now carry Tasers, adding a layer of protection, Baxter said. Perimeter security remains a concern, Baxter said, as cuts in the ranks of sheriffs over the past few years have “decimated” the division’s ability to extend coverage beyond the courthouses. Currently, there are 179 deputy sheriffs, with 17 added last fall from the latest graduating training-academy class.
“It all goes back to manpower,” Baxter said. “They do a fine job. There aren’t enough of them.”
Due to the shortage, the judiciary has suspended school tours and occasionally has to close courtrooms, he said. In the meantime, state police plan to work with the Providence Police Department to boost security outside the courthouses, particularly during known gang trials or court appearances by gang associates, Barry said. “We’re going to put some more presence outside.”
An analyst with the National Center for State Courts said Rhode Island is unique among the states in that the judiciary has broad power to determine what weapons law enforcement personnel can carry in the courts. Most court security staff nationwide are armed with guns, as dictated by state laws. By the numbers
Sheriffs Division Budget 2017: $18.2 million
Sheriffs carrying Tasers: 64
Sources: Rhode Island state budget; Supreme Court administrator J. Joseph Baxter Jr.
On Twitter: @kmulvane
Earlier this month, the Home Office announced that security giant G4S is to take over from Barnardo s in providing welfare for families detained while waiting to be deported. The news required a double-take. After all, G4S is the same private security firm that promised it would sell its children s services following a series of scandals about the way it looked after children.
The move follows the closure of the much-lauded Cedars detention centre in December. The purpose-built unit for families with children run by Barnardo s was opened in 2011 by the coalition government, after the Liberal Democrats argued that children should not be held in penal establishments. Families awaiting removal will now be held at Tinsley House, an adult immigration removal centre (IRC) near Gatwick, operated by G4S. When the Home Office first proposed closing Cedars and moving refused asylum seeker families to Tinsley House last year, Barnardo s told ministers it was not in the best interests of children and they could not support it. It was controversial when Barnardo s agreed to run Cedars in the first place. The charity, which had campaigned against holding child asylum seekers in detention, said it was only doing so because it believed its presence would help hold the Home Office to its commitment to run a more humane removal system. The announcement that G4s will take over the running of such services from Barnardo s has drawn strong criticism. Former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg said the government s disregard for the welfare of vulnerable children is not the Great Britain he knew and admired, and he claimed that innocent children were being put at risk.
Tinsley House has history. Back in 2003, when it served as an IRC for families, it was slammed by the then prisons inspector Anne Owers who said it needed to improve conditions for the diverse and vulnerable group of people in its care. The inspectorate s report concluded the centre was not suitable to detain children for more than a few days . It bristles with bolts and bars, and is as far removed from a child-friendly environment as you could imagine
Tinsley House is designed to hold adults in secure conditions. Take away the name and you could be in any medium-secure prison in the land. It bristles with bolts and bars and uniformed guards, and is as far removed from a child-friendly environment as you could imagine. It is shameful that children, whose parents committed the crime of seeking a better life, will be held there. That their safety and welfare will be in the hands of G4S compounds the disgrace. It was a year ago when G4S announced that it was selling the children s services arm of its UK operations. The announcement came on the day the Guardian reported that complaints of abuse by whistleblowers had been ignored by the Ministry of Justice and the Youth Justice Board as far back as 2003. This followed a BBC Panorama programme in January 2016 that secretly filmed members of staff allegedly abusing young inmates.
The Guardian report included an interview with two young women, Roni Moss and Lela Xhemajli, who had been in Medway as children in 2009-10. Both said they had been physically abused by staff on numerous occasions. Moss recounted suffering a miscarriage alone in her cell, aged 15 and staff handing her two sanitary towels and telling her to go back to sleep. She alleged that it took staff a week and a half to take her to hospital, where doctors confirmed the miscarriage. Both women said they never saw Ben Saunders, who was Medway s director at the time, during the months they spent there. According to Moss: He never came on the units. Neither G4S, nor Saunders, challenged our report.
After the Panorama and Guardian investigations, G4S replaced the then Medway director Ralph Marchant and brought back Saunders, who had moved on to an IRC. He remained at Medway until the Ministry of Justice took over the running of the centre in June. And it was in June that the Medway improvement board, set up by then justice minister Michael Gove, made its findings publicly available after weeks spent inspecting the centre. Its report contained disturbing accounts of attempts by G4S to impede its investigation by withholding CCTV footage, discouraging young inmates to speak to the board and trying to manipulate and control the investigation itself. G4S has still not sold its children s services arm, though it says it is in the process of doing so. It has no intention, it seems, of quitting its many other highly lucrative, UK custodial services. These include Tinsley House. The director of this establishment and another nearby IRC is the same Ben Saunders, who twice ran the troubled Medway secure training centre. The Home Office would doubtless say that if children are to be held in IRCs, there is no alternative but to use the private sector, which runs all bar one of these units. But it is the state making the decision to imprison families awaiting deportation, so it should be the state taking the responsibility of caring for them. The government is abdicating that responsibility and placing it in the hands of a private company that has repeatedly shown itself incapable of delivering the services it promises.
As for the now closed Cedars, it was built with a better world in mind relatively spacious, with play areas for children, several lounges, a library including immigration law materials, a multifaith prayer room and mosque, computing and internet facilities. Cedars was an acronym for compassion, empathy, dignity, approachability, respect and support. Not words one readily associates with G4S.
- ^ providing welfare for families detained while waiting to be deported (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ promised it would sell its children s services (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ G4S (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ were being put at risk (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ slammed by the then prisons inspector Anne Owers (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ reported (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ a BBC Panorama programme (www.bbc.co.uk)
Maplewood city officials will discuss the future of the Stargate nightclub at an emergency City Council meeting Wednesday, after 60 gunshots were fired there over the weekend, according to Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell. Five people were injured early Saturday after a fight broke at the club, which is on Rice Street at Larpenteur Avenue. One gunshot was fired inside and dozens more rang out in the parking lot as frenzied patrons spilled outside.
No one was seriously hurt despite the number of shots fired, Schnell said.
I know [the owner] has invested a lot of time, effort and real money to try to make this business go, but this can t go on, Schnell said, adding that the owner has been very cooperative. The question at Wednesday s 8 a.m. meeting will be whether the city can set conditions to improve safety on weekends, Schnell said. In terms of sanctions, the council has a full range of options, including temporary closure, license suspension on weekend nights, requiring more security guards to be stationed in problem areas like the parking lot, more stringent ID and search protocols, or added technology measures.
The club s license could also be revoked, based on significant public safety concerns, Schnell said. The City Council had already planned to talk with Stargate s owner about safety at an upcoming meeting, said Mayor Nora Slawik, but the recent incident made things more urgent. Club owner Paul Xiong met with the council last summer shortly after he took ownership. There had been problems with large crowds and uncontrollable behavior.
Xiong agreed to stop hosting 18-plus nights, Slawik said. Xiong couldn t be reached for comment Sunday. Shots were fired in the parking lot in the summer of 2016.
Other incidents include a 2011 stabbing and a May 2015 incident where a 20-year-old was shot and killed by a Stargate security guard. Problems arose again this winter, Schnell said. On Saturday, 35 to 40 police officers from the Roseville and St. Paul police departments and from the State Patrol were present as a result of the gunshots, Schnell said.
We re down to the point where we have to fix this once and for all, ideally, Slawik said.