Jurors, visitors will face new courthouse security procedures
When Pitkin County Courthouse reopens to jury trials in April, new rules will apply
With the return of jury trials in Pitkin County set for the first full week in April, the number of local residents passing through the courthouse in Aspen is likely to significantly increase.
Many locals could be in for a surprise, however, because recent renovations to the Pitkin County Courthouse have brought new security measures that have never before existed within the 130-year-old building.
“Our beautiful town has been pretty safe (over those decades),” said Pitkin County Deputy Brady Jax, who is now in charge of courthouse security. “But (recently) some defendants got aggressive with the judges … and the 9th Judicial District felt it was time to change the security. With the renovation, we were able to bring it into the 21st century.”
That means entering the building is no longer as simple as walking through the front, side or back doors. The only entrance now available to the public is the front door on Main Street.
Once inside, visitors will be confronted with a setup familiar to anyone who’s entered any other courthouse in the state and across the country or passed through airport security. Visitors must remove most objects from their pockets, as well as belts, that go through a new X-ray machine, then they must pass through a metal detector. Two contract security guards are now posted at the entrance.
The new security measures include a lengthy list of more than 30 items now prohibited inside the building, including weapons of any kind, sporting equipment, tools, alcoholic beverages and still or video cameras. The most common items people have tried to bring in since the security screenings began last summer are controlled substances and medicines, cigarette lighters and knives, Jax said.
The following items are prohibited from the Pitkin County Courthouse. An individual attempting to introduce any of the following items will be denied entry.
1. Weapons of any type, switchblades, guns, nunchucks, brass knuckles, etc.
2. Firearms of any type
3. Replicas of firearms
4. Stun guns
6. Any item potentially used as a weapon
7. Harmful biological and chemical materials
8. Alcoholic beverages
12. Flashlights (longer than 3” in length)
13. Handcuffs and handcuff keys
14. Sporting equipment
15. Fixed blade knives with blades measuring 3 inches or more
16. Folding blade knives with blades measuring 3 inches or more
17. No sharp objects
18. Large pointed scissors
19. Ceramic and glass containers
20. Box cutters, razors, razor blades and any bladed device or device with sharp edges or points
21. Swords and cane swords
22. Cigarette lighters, gas lighters, matches, any device that emits a flame
23. Flammable liquids
24. Illegal narcotics and controlled substances
25. No professional photographic or audio-visual equipment of any type, including cameras, video or audio recorders or players.
26. Cellphones are permitted but must be placed on silent mode or turned off.
27. All food and drinks, brought in by the public shall be screened through the X-ray machine.
a. EXCEPTIONS: Only Dogs.
b. All dogs must be under the control of their handler.
c. All dogs accompanied by a visitor must be on a leash.
d. The dog must be cleared through the screening process and its collar must conform to this list.
*-No other animals will be permitted.
29. Laser pointers
a. EXCEPTIONS: Attorneys conducting business in the courts
30. Tools of any type
a. EXCEPTIONS: maintenance personnel and sub-contractors approved by the facilities director
31. Aerosol sprays, including mace, pepper spray, hairspray, etc.
a. EXCEPTIONS: Medical aerosol propelled inhalants are allowed or any medical device that needs propellant.
Security officers will not hold on to prohibited items.
Dogs are the only animals allowed inside the building, though they must be controlled by their handlers at all times, on a leash and the dog and its collar will have to be cleared through the screening process.
Handicapped visitors who used to be able to enter the building through the backdoor and use the elevator to navigate between floors have a new entrance just to the right of the stairway to the main entrance that includes a lift to the new security station.
The 9th Judicial District’s Chief Judge James Boyd has set April 5 as the first day jury trials can begin again in Pitkin, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties. Jury trials have been postponed since March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Aspen, the first jury trial in Pitkin County Court is scheduled for April 8, Jax said, and prospective jurors should take note of new procedures.
“The courts are very concerned about the COVID,” Jax said.
First of all, to allow for social distancing, only about 20 prospective jurors will be allowed inside the building at one time. Employees from the court clerk’s office will collect jury summons notices, pass out a jury questionnaire and take down people’s cellphone numbers, he said.
“It could be raining or snowing, so jurors should dress accordingly,” Jax said. “We just ask that people bring as little as possible. Don’t bring two backpacks and a purse.”
Then prospective jurors will be asked to hang around town or in their cars or those who live close by can return home until called back to the courthouse by court clerks and asked to return, he said.
Once inside, the group of about 20 must wear face masks and will be split into two groups. One will be seated inside the large courtroom on the second floor, while the other will be shown to the newly created courtroom in the building’s basement, Jax said. The judge in charge of the trial will be able to speak with both groups via video links.
“We just want people to know what they’re getting into,” Jax said.
The new security procedures will cost the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office about $240,000 a year, including Jax’s new position and the two full-time security guards, Undersheriff Alex Burchetta said.
As of February, 10 felony and 14 misdemeanor jury trials had been set in Pitkin County, according to prosecutor Don Nottingham.
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