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home : news : news Tuesday, January 16, 2018

5/17/2017 Email this articlePrint this article 
Satellite office heads cite risk in request for more security
County will consider installing new barrier at building in DeWitt

By Tom Pantera

CLINTON - Last summer, a possibly drunk and stoned - and definitely confused - wedding party showed up at the Clinton County Satellite Office in DeWitt to get married. The bride even wore her wedding dress.

They were under the mistaken impression they could get married by the county recorder, whose office is among those with a DeWitt branch. They were convinced otherwise and left.

While that was a pretty benign mistake, county officials appeared before supervisors Monday to ask for beefed-up security at the DeWitt office.

"We've had a few times where we've had some worries" with angry county residents, said Shane McClintock, county director of Environmental Services. Some of those encounters threatened to turn physical, but they were de-escalated, he reported.

But other than a counter that stops short of one wall in the lobby, there is nothing to stop anyone from walking back into the county offices. That leaves Lisa Frederick, the county offices' administrative assistant, without protection.

Supervisor Dan Srp said he was at the office on a day when a mentally ill person who was under the influence came into the office.

"Shane was there and did a great job," Srp said.

But such things could happen at any time, County Recorder Scott Judd said.

"It just brings to light the risk that's out there every day," Judd said. "A pretty shocking display by this individual. My deputy felt threatened."

"It's been a little weird," said Gwen Deming, director of Clinton/Jackson Counties Early Childhood Iowa, which rents office space in the building. "A lot of it is mental health issues. You don't know who is going to come in."

Srp said he understood the need for more of a barrier, but that wouldn't stop someone who becomes agitated after being allowed back into the offices.

"We can come up to the front and answer all those questions without having them come back," McClintock said. He estimated that was true perhaps 90 percent of the time.

County Treasurer Rhonda McIntyre said her DeWitt office had seen no incidents, but employees there are able to instantly contact DeWitt police if anything happens. That is not true of the other offices in the building.

Sheriff Rick Lincoln noted that even though there is a sheriff's office in the satellite building, a deputy is not always there.

And Mike Osmun of the Veterans Service Office, which also has space in the satellite building, said, "I know Lisa and some of the ladies who work out there have felt very unsafe."

Supervisors did not take formal action on new security measures, but directed department heads to meet with county Building Maintenance Manager Corey Johnson to get estimates for construction of a barrier between the lobby and offices. That group also will discuss putting panic buttons in other offices to contact law enforcement immediately if needed.

Guns in Courthouse?

In other security matters, County Attorney Mike Wolf met with supervisors to discuss changes in state law regarding carrying of weapons in the courthouse.

Under a change passed by the 2017 Iowa Legislature, someone who is legally permitted to carry a firearm but who is prevented from doing so in a county courthouse can sue the county.

In the 7th Judicial District, only Clinton and Scott counties have security stations at the courthouse entrance staffed by law enforcement.

"The courthouse has devised a pretty secure environment," Wolf said. "My recommendation would be the county continue what it's doing."

Under current policy, only licensed law enforcement officers may carry a firearm in the county courthouse. People who want to sue would have to demonstrate they would be harmed by not carrying a gun in the courthouse, but "there would be no adverse effect because the person is safe," Wolf said.

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