The Wise County courthouse is officially closed – after 5 and on weekends.
County Judge Bill McElhaney told commissioners Tuesday that the courthouse will no longer be open for meetings after 5 p.m. – a change that primarily affects the local Democratic and Republican parties, which hold their monthly meetings on the second floor.
McElhaney said the decision was made by the courthouse security committee, which includes him, District Judge John Fostel, County Court-at-Law No. 1 Judge Melton Cude, Sheriff David Walker, Captain Kevin Benton and Chief Deputy Doug Whitehead.
McElhaney said the group began evaluating courthouse security after “several incidents here and of course, throughout the country ,” and although they are considering several improvements to courthouse security, McElhaney said they will be implemented gradually.
The judge also asked commissioners to consider seeking bids for a camera system to be installed at the courthouse and linked to systems in the Bridgeport and Boyd courthouse annexes.
He said the system could be monitored remotely, and all sites could be monitored at one time. The group approved drafting a bid description for the system.
McElhaney said they are also considering increasing security personnel in the next two months, and they are contemplating the installation of a metal detector.
“A camera is great for the case after the fact, but the guy with a stern look and a .45 is the only guy that will prevent it,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns. “The people that commit these acts, a camera isn’t going to stop them.”
The most notorious local threat was in September 2012, when Johnny Pippin Jr. of Decatur allegedly scrawled several threats, including one to kill County Attorney James Stainton, on a bathroom wall and tried to set fire to the courthouse.
The granite structure, built in 1896, has five separate entrances, and civilian and inmate foot traffic is mixed.
McElhaney said he told party chairs that he would open the courthouse and provide security for their conventions, and Walker said both groups can use the Sheriff’s Office training room for their monthly meetings.