Increased security OK’s for Garco courthouse |

Increased security OK’s for Garco courthouse

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Security will be stepped up at the Garfield County Courthouse soon, thanks to the County Commissioners’ approval of a plan the county sheriff put forward.

Once the plan is put in place, visitors to the building on Eighth Street in Glenwood Springs will be able to enter only through the east-side doors where they will pass through a metal detector; an X-ray machine might scan their packages. Employees will use the west entrance and will be required to use magnetic identification cards. The front entrance will be used only for emergencies.

The commissioners also approved money for new equipment and three additional deputies who will rotate duty at the east entrance. Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario asked for $20,000 for new equipment including a walk-through metal detector, wand-type detectors, security cameras and magnetic identification readers.

Vallario will also get three additional deputies at an annual cost of $139,890.

The Pitkin County Airport has a package X-ray machine it is willing to donate to the county since it has handed over airport security to a private company. Vallario said he has not yet determined if the machine will be usable in the courthouse.

With Vallario at the county commissioners meeting Monday was Chief District Court Judge Peter Craven, who urged the commissioners to approve the plan.

“The courts support this proposal,” Craven said, adding that the court looked at increasing security 10 to 15 years ago. This is a different era in which increased security is more generally accepted, he said.

“Judge [Dan] Petre has lived here for 50 years, and I’ve lived here for 35, [and we can tell you] the place has changed. People are coming in who are not the people who came here in 1970.”

Although deputies are present in courtrooms during proceedings, “Anybody in the public gallery could walk in with a handgun,” Vallario said. Metal detectors and increased deputy presence currently takes place only during high-profile cases.

An incident in March had the sheriff’s office on alert when a recently freed inmate threatened violence against Glenwood Springs police and a local judge. The sheriff received a report from the Department of Corrections in March that a man was being released from prison and talked about getting even with people involved in his arrest and conviction for a 2001 crime.

The man was reportedly headed west on a bus to Grand Junction but did not get off in Glenwood Springs. Local judges were alerted of the threat, Vallario said.

Also in March, a rape suspect allegedly killed a judge and two others in an Atlanta courtroom, and in Chicago a man who was on the losing end of a ruling in a civil case killed two of the judge’s relatives.

And about 10 years ago, Vallario said, someone on trial in county court drew a gun and took hostages, but Judge Victor Zerbi was able to leave through a back door.

“I could tick off several instances when guns have been taken away [from people in courtrooms],” said Jim Bradford, the clerk of court.

At first, the commissioners balked at the cost, especially for the three new deputies and what commissioners John Martin and Larry McCown saw as escalating expenses.

“You build a smarter mousetrap, you get a smarter mouse,” McCown said. “We’ll have to keep throwing money at it.”

While McCown acknowledged it was the county’s responsibility to fund the added personnel, he asked if the sheriff had any money to contribute for the new equipment, drawing a short “no” from Vallario.

Martin maintained there could be other options for securing the building, such as moving the courtrooms to the third and fourth floors, as well as hiring a private security company to oversee the courthouse.

However, Commissioner Tresi Houpt moved to approve the plan, which drew a unanimous vote from the three commissioners.