Knives, chains, box cutters, oh my.
Gila County Posse volunteers have stopped dozens of these items from entering the Payson courtroom since they took up post outside the doors in February.
It is the first time the courthouse, at 714 S. Beeline Highway, has had posted security and something court staff and prosecutors agree is long overdue.
“Gila County has one of the very few courthouses without weapons screening,” said Superior Court Judge Peter Cahill. “The public, people seeking redress in the courts and court employees have long been at risk as a result.”
The crowded, outdated courthouse, which holds hearings for the Payson Magistrate, Payson Regional Justice and Star Valley Magistrate Courts and the Gila County Attorney’s Office, has always had little security. Detention deputies often stand by after escorting prisoners to court, but the building has no metal detectors or bag checks.
That means anyone could walk in with anything. Despite the lack of incident so far, the lack of screening has alarmed staff.
Cahill said it is terrifying to sit in the courtroom, especially for heated hearings involving child custody or divorce.
One time, for example, a person reached into a large bag and Cahill said he had no idea what they would pull out. Other times, he has to tell defendants to take their hands out of their pockets for safety.
Chief Deputy County Attorney Shawn Fuller said with the courtroom so small and crammed, someone could do great damage before anyone could stop them.
In addition, victims often sit just a few feet from their alleged perpetrators.
“It is a bit disconcerting having a domestic violence victim in the courtroom in such close proximity to the defendant, especially when emotions are running really high,” he said.
After taking office earlier this year, Fuller and County Attorney Brad Beauchamp decided they needed to do something immediately to beef up security.
They reached out to the Gila County Sheriff’s Office and the Posse stepped forward with volunteers.
Most members of the 40-member posse have firearms training, but they are not certified law enforcement officers and have no arrest powers.
They offer the GCSO extra manpower with patrol work, crime scene protection, traffic control and transportation of prisoners.
On Feb. 4, the posse began providing security at the courthouse several days a week to ensure drugs and weapons do not enter the court complex.
To date, they have stopped more than 80 knives, 10 chains and other items from entering. Volunteers have found no firearms, Fuller said, adding most people probably leave those in their vehicles when they see security.
“If it wasn’t for the posse, these things would have gone in,” he said.
Long term, Cahill is working with County Manager Don McDaniel to have the Gila County Board of Supervisors adopt a courthouse security plan.
A Security Committee has already implemented some changes, but Cahill said the building still needs weapons screening for all court hearings.
“Because the cost will be significant, careful planning is important so that changes are permanent,” he said.
Currently, the posse is providing court security for free. The county covers only volunteers’ mileage.
Fuller said while volunteers already work several days a week, he hopes to increase the hours of coverage.
On Tuesday, the GCAO thanked the posse for its work, which stretches beyond checking bags.
“The posse members provide friendly greetings, hold doors for citizens and staff and offer help to employees carrying large items or citizens that appear to need assistance,” according to a press release.
The following posse members have volunteered at the court complex: Melvin Palmer, Mike White, Don Mahr, Keith Beech, Tom Naylor, Ab Sessions, Troy Sessions, Mike Clark, John Jones, Jerry Bryant and Pat White.