County officials plan to meet soon to discuss security measures at the courthouse after a suicide last week of a court reporter, who shot himself with a gun he carried into the building. Authorities say he also had extra ammunition in his possession. County employees, unlike the general public, do not have to go through metal detectors at the courthouse (pictured).
by Alan McArthur
In the wake of last week’s tragic suicide at the Platte County Courthouse, there has been some conversation among officials and the public about the possibility of increasing security.
However, no new security measures have been implemented, approved, or as yet discussed in a public meeting.
As first reported in last week's Landmark, Terry Easton, 50, of Parkville was found by a cleaning crew in a courthouse restroom, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Easton had purchased the weapon earlier the same day and had taken the weapon and additional ammunition into the courthouse.
Members of the general public who enter the courthouse are required to pass through a metal detector. Employees are not subject to the metal detector screening, and can enter through a number of doors by using an approved electronic pass key.
“Last week was too early to get into security measures,” said Dana Babcock, county administrator. “For us the first and foremost thing was to get through that week. Actually the Labor Day weekend came at a great time after this tragedy. The two housekeeping ladies are back now.”
Betty Knight, presiding commissioner, said that she hopes to meet with the other departments in the next couple of weeks.
“Right now we will probably visit with the circuit court judges, sheriff’s department and prosecutor’s office to discuss security,” said Knight.
“Nothing has changed, and we haven’t set up a meeting yet. Right now we are all trying to deal with everything and people are still talking their feelings out with counselors.”
However, some officials have said there are problems, which might need to be overcome before security measures could be put in place.
“The problem we have here is there are prosecutors and judges and clerks who have unlimited access on weekends or evenings,” said Lee Hull, circuit court judge. “If you don’t have 24 hour security, how do you make it work? We have several employee entrances that are not screened.”
Other officials expressed interest in keeping security measures the way they are because they are focused on people with the greatest chance of doing harm.
“There is a very good reason to screen non-employees because the risk of harm is much greater,” said Eric Zahnd, Platte County prosecutor. “The risk is low for employees the same as how employees are not screened at other businesses like newspapers. The federal courthouse does not even screen their employees.”
Knight said she is waiting to hear from the sheriff’s department about their recommendations of how to deal with security issues for the county.
“I haven’t had any information from the sheriff’s department yet,” said Knight. “We have to rely on their recommendations. They are trained in the area of security and making sure that people are safe.”
Zahnd said he believes security measures should not be implemented immediately, they need to be decided on after discussions.
“I personally don’t believe it would be appropriate to take action right now,” said Zahnd. “In the end it is the sheriff’s department and the judges who will make the final judgment.”
Any new measures that increase security will also increase the cost.
“There will obviously be an economic change in order to cover the areas not addressed by security now,” said Hull.
If new security measures are put into place then it seems likely they would not only affect the courthouse, they would also be applied to the administration building.
“Of course we want to keep everyone safe, but we have to do it in a way that’s reasonable,” said Knight. “If we do implement something, we would do it in all of the buildings.”
Easton had been employed for 20 years at the courthouse as a court reporter.
At the county commission meeting last week, officials offered their condolences to Easton’s family and co-workers.
“We had a tragic incident at the courthouse with a long-time employee,” said Tom Pryor, commissioner. “I offer my prayers to the gentleman’s family and to the two employees who found him. This is a tragic situation and it’s been very hard on a lot of people.”
“It has been a sad week,” said Jim Plunkett, commissioner. “We do have grief counselors for anyone who may need it.”
Most county officials have not yet looked at any new security measures, which might be implemented because people are still dealing with the tragedy.