Monday, October 31, 2016

Iowa courts still don't prohibit guns in courts

Woodbury County Courthouse Security

SIOUX CITY IA Oct 31 2016 A ban prohibiting guns and dangerous weapons inside Northwest Iowa court facilities isn't currently on the drawing board.
That doesn't mean an order will never be issued, but for now decisions banning any weapons will be left up to each county's board of supervisors, said Duane Hoffmeyer, chief judge of Iowa's 3rd Judicial District, which includes Woodbury County and 15 other Northwest Iowa counties.
"It has come up for discussion, but there is not an administrative order from me in place. It has been talked about from time to time. I can't say I've ruled it out. At the same time, I can't say I've ruled it in," Hoffmeyer said.
Earlier this month, Kurt Wilke, chief judge of Iowa's 2nd Judicial District, issued an administrative order banning guns and other weapons in and around judicial offices in the north Iowa district's 22 counties. Law enforcement and court officers are exempt.
A survey of 3rd District counties found that eight already ban guns and dangerous weapons inside their courthouses. Three others ban weapons in court areas and allow them in the rest of the courthouse. Five counties have no restrictions.
In the counties that prohibit guns and weapons, only Woodbury County searches courthouse visitors. Since the county board passed a resolution banning guns and weapons in county buildings in 2011, visitors have had to pass through a metal detector at a single entrance. Visitors carrying a weapon may take it back to their vehicle or store it in a lock box at the courthouse entrance while inside the building.
"I think we had one incident where a guy forgot he had (a gun) in a bag," Woodbury County Sheriff Maj. Todd Wieck said of the excellent compliance the department has seen with the weapons ban.
Visitors are not searched in the other seven counties that do not allow weapons inside their courthouse. The onus is on each individual to obey signs posted at entrances.
"We haven't had any issues with it. People have been respectful of it," Clay County Sheriff Randy Krukow said of the county's weapons ban in place in the courthouse in Spencer since 2011.
Lyon County Sheriff Stewart Vander Stoep said signs at the Rock Rapids courthouse advise visitors that weapons are not permitted inside the courthouse. Knowing that someone could disobey the signs and bring a weapon inside, deputies provide security, including use of hand-held metal detectors, on the building's third floor, where the courtroom and court offices are located, on court action days.
"I honestly can't recall a time that we've had someone come up there and be checked and had a weapon found on them," Vander Stoep said.
In most cases, judges and court staff will work with individual counties to respect their policies, said Leesa McNeil, 3rd District court administrator.
It's standard operating procedure, McNeil said, that when preparing for a trial or other court hearing that has the potential to become heated, the judge or court staff will ask attorneys if there are any potential security concerns. In numerous cases, McNeil said, attorneys have supplied information about someone who has made threats. In those instances, the local sheriff's office is notified.
"We have made specific case requests for the sheriff to provide security at the courtroom door," McNeil said.
So far, there has been no statewide order regarding courtroom weapons bans issued by the Iowa Supreme Court, though some counties in other part of the state have also banned weapons from their buildings or court facilities.
Security is an ongoing discussion at the local and state level, Hoffmeyer said.
Hoffmeyer said he knows there have been minor incidents involving weapons throughout the district, and that it's likely some people enter courthouses with weapons and never intend to use them. Whether a districtwide ban on weapons is needed remains to be seen.

"I'm not working on any draft language right now," Hoffmeyer said.
Sioux City Journal 

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