Originally created 07/04/99

Municipal Bldg. danger

The unguarded Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, housing judges' chambers, courtrooms, the mayor's office, city Commission chambers and key government offices, could well be the site of a potential tragedy.

Richmond County Chief Marshal Steve Smith, the sheriff and even other judges -- throughout the 1990s -- have been trying to persuade Chief Superior Court Judge William Fleming Jr. of theneed for metal detectors at key entrances while securing others.

Fleming appears to be the lone but influential voice resisting these pleas.

At the very least, an armed guard should be in courtrooms when a judge is presiding. Although they are fine officers of the court, the present handful of aging, unarmed bailiffs could not resist an attacker armed with a knife, let alone a firearm.

Awhile back the courage and presence of mind of a juror (who happened to be a good wrestler) averted a violent tragedy when he immobilized a man who wandered into the Municipal Building with a 12-inch butcher knife who wanted to kill his ex-girlfriend or anyone else who tried to stop him.

That is not an isolated incident. Sheriff's deputies tell us a variety of stories about subduing enraged defendants (some even handcuffed) inside courtrooms at both the Municipal Building and in chambers inside the Walton Way Law Enforcement Center.

There are plenty of people roaming around mad at "the system" and -- in this post-Columbine High School age -- there's no telling what kind of weapon they could conceal and bring into, say, a courtroom.

In addition to metal detectors, there is also a need for some better guards (perhaps marshals) -- preferably ones who are young and strong.

Judge Fleming seems to think the public will be impeded if there are detectors and stepped-up security at the Municipal Building. Yet Americans think nothing of passing through metal detectors at airports, key government buildings and, now, some schools. Augusta's "Marble Palace," in fact, may be the last unsecured government building in a major Southern city.

If the chief judge continues his opposition, it's incumbent upon the mayor and Commission to override him and move to implement Marshal Smith's Municipal Building security plan.


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