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Court trains with mock crisis

Profile image for By Megan Gray / Staff Writer
By Megan Gray / Staff Writer

Typically, a judge makes the rules in court, but sometimes things don’t go exactly as planned.

To prepare for a courtroom emergency, Denton County’s Joseph A. Carroll Building was closed Tuesday morning for security training.

The scenario-based training involved a mock court with unruly defendants, a gunman and a medical emergency.

“Today [Tuesday] was to not only be prepared to keep our citizens safe, but also those working the courts as well,” said Precinct 1 Constable Jesse Flores.

Flores and Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Joe Holland had been planning the training day specifics for several weeks.

Holland said the idea for court security training was not the result of any one incident, but with security concerns making headlines nationally, he felt the time was right.

“I’ve been wanting to host a training [session] like this since I took office seven years ago,” Holland said. “I finally just was able to act upon it and see it through.”

The training lasted roughly two hours, and during that time, Holland and Flores saw many things they could improve on, letting employees chime in with suggestions.

While cellphone use is generally discouraged in any type of courtroom setting, one of the mock jurors — a court clerk — suggested that clerks be able to keep their phones on in case of an emergency.

Holland said the cellphone policy hasn’t been revised since he was elected, but he agrees it’s something that should be changed immediately.

“Even the small things — like allowing the court clerks to keep their cellphones on — can help speed response times,” he said.

The training scenario featured the mock shooting of a plaintiff, defendant and bailiff by a man who storms into the courtroom.

“Our concern upon arrival is to stop the shooter, using whatever force it takes,” Flores said.

Flores, who oversees six deputies, said Tuesday’s training should help prepare his crew for a tactical shoot he has planned. He said typical training involving an active shooter requires that four deputies be in a room before one is authorized to shoot to kill.

“New training with an active shooter only consists of two, or even one deputy,” Flores said.

Holland said he hasn’t had an incident in his courtroom yet, and he hopes to leave office saying the same.

“We learned a lot, took notes and are better prepared,” he said.

In case of a medical emergency, Holland and Flores want all their staff members to be certified in CPR.

“We are going to provide some additional training and certification and do this again in three months to retest what we learned, ” Flores said.

Tuesday wasn’t Holland’s first experience in courtroom security — he’s taken part in exercises at justice of the peace training conventions. But he said it was his first in a courtroom setting.

“It’s one thing to learn in a hotel ballroom, but when the training is in your own courtroom, that just drives it all home,” Holland said.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.