Safety Measures after Shooting Help Courthouse Employees Feel Safe

By KBJR News 1

November 24, 2012 Updated Nov 24, 2012 at 11:48 PM CDT

Grand Marais, MN (NNCNOW.COM) --- On a terrible day last December several people fought for their lives inside the Cook County Courthouse in Northern Minnesota as Daniel Schlienz went on a shooting rampage following his trial.

Since then, major changes have been made at that court house to protect employees and the public.

"It doesn't happen here, is the kind of attitude we were allowed to have, before Dec.15," Molly Hicken, Assistant Cook County Attorney said. "But it obviously happens anywhere."

After Daniel Schlienz was found guilty of criminal sexual conduct, he went on a shooting rampage throughout the court house.

Since that violent day, a security committee was formed to look into security measures to create a safer environment.

"We've got all the players in place to understand what happened and what could happen and where we might fall short," Commissioner Sue Hakes of Cook County said.

Victims like Molly Hicken vividly remember the trauma that day and are glad for the work being done to keep them safer.

"I feel safe in my office; I feel that I can do my work without fearing for my life," Hicken said.

More than $37,000 has been spent at the county attorney's office including changing the location of the office door, and building a vestibule to create layers of security.

"If somebody comes out of the courtroom, enraged and wanting retribution, they can't just open the door and walk straight into the county attorney's office," Hicken said.

The vestibule includes bullet proof walls, and windows and peep holes in the door.

"The only way you can enter our office is either to be let in, or to use a keypad and know the code," Hicken said.

A secure conference room for witnesses was created and new office locks were installed.

"I can close my door, and lock it easily," Hicken said.

Meanwhile, courtroom procedure has changed.

"We are using metal detectors and for searching people before they are allowed in the courtroom," Leif Lunde, Cook County Chief Deputy Sheriff said. "We also have more than one bailiff on hand."

Access into the court house itself is now limited. There used to be seven main exits and entrances into the court house, now the only way to get in, is through the main door.

The security committee is also working to install x-ray machines and metal detectors before allowing anyone to enter the courthouse.

"I know a lot of rural counties are watching what we are doing," Commissioner Hakes said.

The St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia recently completed a $6 million renovation project which includes upgrades to the offices of the sheriff, county attorney and probation officers, including an enclosed corridor for transporting prisoners to and from the courtroom.

"We all want to do all we can to provide for this to be a safe work environment and a safe place for the public to come," Judge James Florey said. "This security corridor certainly adds greatly to that."

Experts say these security measures work well for smaller court houses like that in Cook County but are not necessarily applicable to bigger facilities like Duluth.

"We are tenants of the county boards in a county building," Judge Mark Munger said "We are state employees basically here by the grace of the county boards. We can't necessarily do anything we want with respect to these buildings because we have the county board here, we have the assessor's office here, we have all the recorder's office and those are not our functions.

Duluth has recently taken the safety measure of building an enclosed corridor for transporting prisoners to and from the courtroom.

St. Louis County spokespeople say, like Cook County, they are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of everyone within the justice system.

County Attorney Tim Scannel has fully recovered from the wounds he suffered that horrific day and is back on the bench in the Cook County Courthouse.

Jennifer Walch
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