By Ashley Bergner
The space is only about seven feet wide, but according to Harvey County Sheriff T. Walton, it’s the weakest spot in the county courthouse’s security and could be a prime place for prisoners to attempt an escape.
Walton is referring to an open space near the building’s east doors and elevator. When prisoners are brought over from the Harvey County Detention Center, it’s possible they could escape or be intercepted at this point.
“This is our primary concern,” Walton said. “...The chances for escape are greatest right here.”
“Our weakest spot”
When inmates are escorted from the detention center to the courtrooms on the second floor of the courthouse, precautions are taken to ensure safety.
A prisoner in the detention center is taken by a deputy down a hallway, passing through two separate, secured doors. After exiting the second door, they arrive in the courthouse and pass through an open area to get on the elevator to go to the courtroom.
However, it’s at this point they’re most vulnerable, Walton said.
“That part over there is our weakest spot,” he said.
He wants to block off the open area, separating the east doors and the public from the transfer of inmates to the elevator. He would like to put in a wall that’s approximately seven feet wide, eight feet tall; the wall will have a steel door with a lock.
This would be a relatively inexpensive solution, he said.
Security wall and ADA access
When Walton presented his plan at the Board of Harvey County Commissioners meeting Monday, some concern was expressed about the security wall interfering with the building’s ADA access.
But handicapped visitors to the courthouse still could use the courthouse’s front doors, which are the most easily handicap accessible, and the building’s other elevator.
Walton is concerned if this security issue is not addressed, it could create trouble down the road.
An inmate could make a bolt for the east doors, or a citizen who is angry at an inmate could use this point to intercept and harm the inmate or deputy.
“That prisoner is in my custody,” Walton said. “I have to make sure he is safe.”
Walton recommended to the County Commission that construction proceed as soon as possible.
“It’s for the safety not only of the department and the prisoner but of the citizens as well,” he said.