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County Marshal Asks Funds to Tighten Court Security

Times Staff Writer

Security at the county courthouse in downtown San Diego should be improved to prevent the kind of violent incidents that have happened at other California courthouses this year, county Marshal Michael Sgobba said Tuesday.

Sgobba asked the Board of Supervisors for $180,000 during the next fiscal year to pay for metal detectors and X-ray machines like those used to provide security in airports. Sgobba also asked for $104,000 a year to pay for new deputy marshals to guard the courthouse entrances.

The board referred Sgobba’s request to budget deliberations scheduled for later this month.

Sgobba said he wants to guard against incidents such as those in San Francisco and Marin counties in April and May.

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In the San Francisco case, a man walked into a courtroom and shot a defendant who was on trial for killing his attacker’s daughter. In the Marin case, a woman shot and killed her former son-in-law and then fatally wounded herself in the midst of a child custody case.

“It just seems like violence in society is escalating, and we’ve experienced the same escalation of violence in and around courthouses, too,” Sgobba said.

In San Diego, Sgobba said, people have reached the second floor of the courthouse with weapons at least twice in the past eight months.

In one case, a woman carrying a rifle wrapped in paper was found searching for a judge. It turned out that the woman had picked up the unloaded rifle from the San Diego Police Department, which had impounded it, and was looking for a judge to settle a small claims suit. She intended no harm, Sgobba said.

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In the other incident, a man handed a loaded pistol to a deputy marshal on the second floor of the courthouse and said “Hey, would you take care of this for me?” The man was arrested and turned over to San Diego police.

Although no harm came from either incident, Sgobba said he was alarmed at the ease with which weapons could be taken into the courthouse and onto the second and third floors, where trials are held.

Sgobba said he planned to close several of the entrances to the courthouse, leaving open those to the courthouse lobby from Broadway, Front and C streets. The jurors’ entrance on Union Street would also be left open.

The metal detectors and X-ray machines would be placed in the lobby and at the jurors’ entrance to screen anyone seeking to reach the courthouse’s upper floors, Sgobba said. The lobby itself and two municipal courtrooms there would be left unprotected, Sgobba said.

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Sgobba said similar security measures are already in place at all federal district courthouses and in at least two county courthouses in California.


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