Judges, officers praise security improvements at Augusta courthouse

Security is one of the areas most commonly praised when courthouse employees talk about improvements over the Municipal Building.

For years, inmates were bused in from the jail and led chained together through public stairwells. Anyone could walk off the street and into the offices of superior, magistrate and state court judges. Metal detectors weren’t installed at the entryway until after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“We used to live in fear,” said Chief Superior Court Judge Carlisle Overstreet. “Every now and then someone would show up with a gun in the hearing room.”

In the new courthouse, the main lobby’s metal detectors and sheriff’s deputies pacing the hallways are the most visible reminders that someone is always watching.

But there’s also a network of hallways and passages the public usually doesn’t see. Some of them are used by judges and court personnel to move between courtrooms, but it also allows inmates to file in and out of courtrooms without coming in contact with the public.

Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Frank Tiller, who oversees internal courthouse security, credits extensive consultation between the architects and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office and the marshal’s office before plans were even drawn.

That included building a mock courtroom for security personnel to scrutinize and make constructive criticism.

By the time it was built, “there were no curveballs,” Tiller said. “It’s been fantastic.”