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Arm judicial marshals before tragedy occurs

By THOMAS W. TEIXEIRA

Publication: The Day

Published February 17. 2013 4:00AM

Enter any courthouse in Connecticut and you will be met at its entrance by a polite, professional and determined "judicial marshal" whose responsibility it is to protect the safety of the public by making sure that no one brings a weapon into the facility.

As state employees, judicial marshals are also charged with guarding and transporting prisoners to court and from their courthourse holding cells into open courtrooms full of spectators. They maintain order throughout the courthouse, yet they lack the means to protect themselves, let alone all who visit and work there. They cannot protect themselves because, quite simply, none of them are armed.

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook School shooting, we now have a myopic obsession with the safety of our public schools. We openly discuss whether we should place an armed police officer in every school as a means of stopping a highly motivated, delusional sociopath, armed with a high-powered assault weapon, from shooting his way to HD cable news notoriety. Many want to place an armed officer in every school to prevent the extremely rare occurrence when a violent, unstable person approaches or enters the school building.

Yet every day across this state, violent, unstable people line up in numbers to enter our courthouses. They do so under extreme duress, usually facing dire consequences, and often with their enemies or victims standing just a few feet away. The men and women charged with protecting everyone in this most pressure-packed environment are unarmed, all of them.

We need armed marshals in our courthouses, at least one in each building.

On any given day there are hundreds of people inside the Superior Court buildings here in New London. There is a judicial marshal at the door, usually two. But when the day comes that a violent, unstable person comes through the main entrance carrying a semi-automatic weapon, the marshals I have come to know, trust, and respect are going to be killed.

The other marshals remaining in that building will respond to that front entrance without hesitation. When they arrive, without a gun, they too could be killed. There will be nothing standing between the shooter and our clerks, judges, prosecutors, prisoners and the public because under existing law no one is allowed to carry a firearm in the courthouse.

The scenario is just as likely to play out on a state highway where unarmed judicial marshals routinely transport on open roads the most dangerous prisoners we have in this state. How long will it be before some revenge-seeking, gang banger wants to take out a prisoner being transported for trial, or a distraught parent wants to harm or kill the man accused of molesting or killing his child, or someone simply gets help with a plan to escape custody en route to court?

No judicial marshal should lose his or her life in the service of our state because the system fails to provide some means of defense.

This does not mean every judicial marshal in this state needs to be armed. But certainly some do. Shouldn't some of our marshals be specially and extensively trained and equipped with firearms and compensated for carrying them? Shouldn't every courthouse have at least one marshal in the building capable of stopping an armed assailant?

I understand that carrying a weapon increases the danger for the person carrying it and for others around them. We cannot, however, deny that we live in a violent world where unbalanced people get weapons and use them against innocent and unarmed people. We ask these judicial marshals to do a difficult and dangerous job under stressful circumstances. They come face to face with violent and unstable people at the door to our courthouses every day. The very least we can do is give these men and women the ability to protect themselves and the public.

If we neglect to do so, we will all bear some responsibility for the foreseeable consequences of our failure.

Thomas W. Teixeira II is an attorney with a practice in New London.

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