SKOWHEGAN — Somerset County commissioners want a security plan for the courthouse following a perceived threat last month.

Commissioner Philip Roy, of Fairfield, said the plan to be developed by the sheriff’s department also is aimed at eliminating tension sometimes created by people attending criminal proceedings at Superior Court, near other county offices.

The threat, which reportedly resulted in locking two of the three doors to the courthouse and the assignment of an armed county detective to the building, illustrates the need for a permanent safety plan, Roy said.

He said he had few details of the threat, and police say no formal complaint was filed.

“I have been told that there was a fear of retaliation or the possibility of some type of retaliation and that the administration wanted to make sure there was a presence to defer concern,” Roy said. “Apparently that dissipated very quickly over a couple of days.”

Chief Deputy Dale Lancaster, of the sheriff’s department, who has been asked to study the courthouse building and come up with a security plan, said Friday that no threat was made to county employees.

“I can tell you I am aware of no threat against anyone in the county building,” Lancaster said. “I do know there have been conversations about Superior Court. You have a lot of public traffic that comes and goes and because of some decisions the commissioners have made, there was a heightened level of concern, but there have been no threats.”

Lancaster did acknowledge that Detective Matt Cunningham of the sheriff’s department was assigned to the building for a short time. He said there is no formal police report of a threat.

Roy said criminal defendants and their families, as well as victims of crime and their families, must pass one another in the courthouse hallway — right next to county offices of the administrator, assistant administrator and the Office of Probate — to get to the courtroom.

Stairs to the Office of the District Attorney, farther down the same hallway, also pass near the offices of the Register of Deeds.

“We just don’t have a written policy and diagram how to protect our employees, and I think we deserve that for our employees, to make sure they feel safe in their work environment,” Roy said Friday. 

Roy said Somerset County Superior Court has been the site of many high-profile criminal trials over the years, and not having a security plan in place is asking for trouble.

He said court security officers are stationed at a metal-detection device at the bottom of the court stairway for big trials, but those officers are in the building only part of the time. The officers also concentrate on order in the court and protecting the judge and are not able to monitor other county offices.

“Court security officers are there only 50 percent of the time; and at 50 percent of the time, I’m not willing to take that chance,” Roy said. “I want to know how we can make our employees feel safe.”

Roy said county commissioners will take up the question of courthouse security during their meetings this month.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367
[email protected]

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