Smith County Questions Courthouse Security

The courthouse shooting in Atlanta, GA brings back frightening memories to the people who work in and attend hearings at the Smith County Courthouse.

Two mondays ago, the Commissioners Court brought up the need for better security. Since then, there has been more discussion on the issue, including the question of how much security is enough.

Every day, hundreds and sometimes more than 1,000 people go in and out of the courthouse. Keeping the building secure is top priority for the screeners and deputies, especially after last month's deadly shooting.

"It makes you think it could happen in Tyler again," Tonda Curry, a local attorney, said.

The shooting happened on the back side of the Smith County Courthouse. And just on the other side of the first-floor windows is where Judge Randall Rogers sits.

"My staff sits in my courtroom with their back to those windows," the County Court At Law #2 judge said. "I've got a staff that's very, very jumpy."

Judge Rogers is on the Courthouse Renovation Committee that's discussing possible improvements to security. He says the fact that anyone can freely roam the halls and enter offices makes the employees too vulnerable.

"I think you're going to have to do bullet-proof chambers," he said. "You're also going to have to increase armed security."

"We haven't found a weakness in the courthouse security at this time," Sheriff J.B. Smith said.

He says his department is considering new security technology, but even that may not be enough.

"There's always that unknown factor of some crazy," Smith said. "It doesn't make any difference what kind of security you put up there."

"It's important to remember the officers were so well-trained and that they responded immediately, professionally, and that the shooter did not get into the courthouse," 114th District Court Judge Cynthia Kent said.

But there's always that fear, as Judge Kent knows first hand. So does Attorney Clement Dunn, whose good friend Chris Marshall, from Fort worth, was killed in the Tarrant County Courthouse shooting in 1992.

"We're reminded that courthouses can be dangerous places sometimes," Dunn said.

"It just brought back a lot of memories from the Thursday shooting and just made you scared all over again," Jodi House, civil court coordinator for County Court At Law #2, said.

Fears they hope can be lessened, once the sheriff's department makes a security recommendation to the Commissioners Court.

All seven law enforcement agencies involved must finish their investigation of the shooting, before the Smith County sheriff's department can make a security recommendation. Commissioners will discuss those issues at its regular meeting on Monday.

Julie Tam, reporting.