02/24/2006

Ga. courthouse where judge, court reporter were killed still needs better security

By HARRY R. WEBER
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA- The downtown courthouse that was the site of a deadly shooting spree nearly a year ago still needs better security, more surveillance equipment and an emergency plan, a committee formed in the wake of the rampage says in its final report.

The report, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, lists the final recommendations of a committee of the Fulton County Courthouse Security Commission.

Rape defendant Brian Nichols was in the courthouse March 11 when authorities say he grabbed an officer's gun and killed a judge, court reporter and sheriff's deputy, then fled and killed a federal agent a few miles away. Nichols surrendered the next day after allegedly taking a woman hostage at a suburban Atlanta apartment.

The sheriff's department has been criticized since the shootings for security lapses in guarding the courts. Several deputies were fired over the shootings, and lawsuits have been filed.

"We have made a lot of improvements to the courthouse and will continue," said Sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Nikita Hightower.

The report says the three courthouses that make up the judicial complex are significantly understaffed in terms of security. While 200 to 235 deputies are currently assigned to courthouse duties, the report says there should be 314 personnel.

The report also recommends installing additional surveillance cameras, adding intrusion alarms on exterior doors and installing panic buttons under the desks in the courtrooms.

Nichols' trial on murder charges is scheduled for Oct. 3 at the same courthouse complex. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

 

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