Feds to review courthouse security nationwide
The review comes after a gunman killed one officer and wounded a deputy marshal in Las Vegas
WASHINGTON — Federal authorities will conduct a nationwide review of courthouse security after a gunman killed a courthouse officer and wounded a deputy marshal in Las Vegas, a senior official said Wednesday.
Michael Prout, a security official with the U.S. Marshals Service, told The Associated Press his agency will scrutinize safety measures at more than 400 federal facilities around the country.
Prout said many federal courthouses and other buildings do not have the kind of modern security checkpoints in place at the Las Vegas building. Authorities say Johnny Lee Wicks, who was angry over losing a lawsuit protesting a cut to his Social Security benefits, opened fire with a shotgun Monday after walking up to the security checkpoint at the courthouse entrance.
"It was very recently constructed and has very recent technology and a security screening pavilion, and that is not the case, unfortunately, in most of the courthouses across the United States," Prout said.
Court security officer Stanley Cooper, a retired police officer with more than 40 years of experience in law enforcement, was shot in the chest and killed. Wicks also shot 48-year-old deputy U.S. marshal Richard Gardner, who survived. Numerous deputy marshals responded to the shooting, driving Wicks across the street, where he died of gunshot wounds.
"We were able to repel this individual but not without losing one of our own first. But he was not able to break through the screening," Prout said. "We will analyze exactly what occurred on Monday and then look across the entire courthouse spectrum and court facility spectrum to determine how we can do it better."
U.S. marshals are charged with protecting federal courthouses and judges.
Prout, the assistant director for judicial security for the marshals, said there is no record of Wicks making threats to federal judges or prosecutors before the shootings, and his name was not in a database of potential security risks to courthouse personnel.
A Justice Department inspector general's report issued coincidentally the same morning as the shooting found threats to judges and prosecutors had more than doubled in the past six years. The report found that many judges and prosecutors didn't always report such threats to the marshals responsible for court security and other authorities, and the marshals didn't always tell other law enforcement agencies.
Investigators say Wicks was on a suicide mission. He torched his apartment, hid a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun under his black trench coat and walked three miles to the federal building in downtown Las Vegas.
The 66-year-old ex-convict had a long criminal history, including prison time for killing his brother in Tennessee and jail time for domestic violence in California, authorities said.
A security review is not unusual following a deadly attack, but this one comes as the nation's court system is gearing up to handle high-profile, high security trials of Guantanamo Bay detainees, including the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
That trial is scheduled to take place in New York City at one of the oldest federal courthouses in the country, but also one of the most secure thanks to handling a number of terrorist trials in recent years.