Protecting Justice in Woodbury County
(SIOUX CITY, IA) - In light of the violence in Kaufman County, Texas, Siouxland News sat down with Woodbury County court officials to find out how they stay safe on and off the job.
A Texas tragedy has public officials across that state on guard after the Kaufman County District Attorney and his wife were found shot to death on Saturday. The shooting comes just two months after one of the county's assistant DA's was gunned down in a parking lot, just a block from his office.
A county judge and the district court administrator both said this kind of incident could happen anywhere, even here in Siouxland. That's why they're having serious conversations at work and at homeThe Woodbury County Courthouse doors open and close time and time again every day, bringing in hundreds of people and the dozens who work there. That includes Leesa McNeil, the District Court Administrator. Her own colleagues have been targeted before. "Many, many years ago, there was a weapon left on a bench that caused some concern. And we have had threats made against individuals who work in court and of course that is always a concern," said McNeil. There's talk of enhancing security at the courthouse, namely adding metal detectors at the entrances. The county already uses metal detectors during high-profile cases, but it could decide to make them mandatory. "The trend is across the country to have secured access to these buildings generally as a way of improving security for everyone in the entire building, including the public that come for services," said McNeil. Courthouse staff has secured access to courtrooms and chambers. It's one step in keeping them safe from harm at work. At home, McNeil said there are a number of ways she and her co-workers can stay safe. "Try to not be able to be easily found in terms of being in the phone book or having your address listed or your phone number listed in easily accessible places. And I think that helps to create some insulation for individuals who do work in these public positions," said McNeil. "Part of our orientation with usually you have your spouse or your partner with you, they discuss security at the building and some of the things you should do at your home," said Duane Hoffmeyer, Woodbury County Judge. Judge Hoffmeyer said common sense is key - vary your routes to places, lock all your doors.However, he explained there's only so much you can do. "Some of those ambush-type scenarios, there's very little you can do that would prevent it. You just try to take your precautions and hope for the best," said Hoffmeyer.
Even here in Iowa, people have been targeting prosecutors. Just last month, a man attacked Story County attorneys and hit them in the face just outside their courthouse offices.
The county attorney there is calling on state lawmakers to make an assault against a prosecutor a felony to help protect county employees in vulnerable positions.