Security agents at Augusta’s most heavily guarded government facilities say they are finding more weapons disguised as belt buckles, bolo ties and even cellphone covers.
“The overtly obvious attempts of people trying to sneak in firearms have reduced,” said Lt. Bryan Patterson, the head of the security division at the Richmond County Marshal’s Office. “What we are seeing now is artfully concealed weapons.”
The list of hidden weaponry appearing with greater frequency at the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, John H. Ruffin Judicial Center, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, regional airport and the state’s Juvenile Justice facility on Broad Street includes derringer belt buckles, cellphone cases that fold into brass knuckles, and bolo ties and quarter-size coins that contain half-inch, pop-out blades.
Patterson said the marshal’s office does not keep a running log of the items it confiscates, but he said security agents do daily battle with visitors trying to smuggle in cleverly disguised weapons. He said guards still get the regulars, such as real and replica pistols, knives, scissors, Mace, pliers, pipe wrenches, icepicks, screwdrivers and even alcohol-filled flasks. Security staffers at Fort Gordon said Monday that the most common items they confiscate are expired identification cards or drivers’ licenses, and that they occasionally seize drugs and weapons.
Last week, county marshals arrested an Evans man at Augusta Regional Airport after screening agents from the Transportation Security Administration spotted a .380-caliber pistol in his carry-on bag.
Louis Wade Adler, 37, was charged with a misdemeanor count of carrying a weapon into a government building. He could face prosecution and, if convicted, a maximum punishment of a year in prison and a federal fine of $7,500, if the gun was loaded, court records show.
In 2012, the TSA assessed more than $1.8 million in civil penalties for firearms, after 1,549 firearms were taken to security checkpoints nationwide, including one at Augusta Regional, said Jonathan Allen, a spokesman for the agency.
Adler’s arrest was the first in the past year and, so far in 2013, his firearm has been the only one discovered at the airport.
This is the 10th year that checkpoints have guarded the entrances of Augusta buildings.
They were installed after the 2001 terrorist attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. Former Richmond County Superior Court Judge Duncan Wheale pushed the move to install checkpoints at which guards patrol for knives, tools, firearms, chemicals and explosives.
When prohibited items other than guns are taken to a checkpoint, visitors are given the option to take them to their vehicle or give them to someone for safekeeping. If people elect not to pursue either option, they can voluntarily surrender the items into a bucket to be disabled and destroyed.
Visitors who try to conceal an item or interfere with a screening can face fines of $100 or $1,500, respectively, TSA documents show.
Firearms present different handling. By law, people permitted to carry firearms must immediately disclose they have a gun on them or in their luggage for an agent to escort them to their car to store the weapon.