Publisher's note: In light of the popularity of this most recent post, written by Sheriff Ernie Coleman, it is prudent to go back to this post to begin an understanding from where this issue arose in this news release below.
The expansion of security for the Beaufort County Courthouse has been in the works for almost two years. The talks began under the supervision of Interim County Manager Ken Windley. Mr. Windley asked the Sheriff how many deputies would be needed to secure the courthouse if we went to one entry point. The Sheriff responded to Mr. Windley by stating that the addition of a minimum of four deputies would be needed to secure the courthouse for all operational hours. Later in the budget process, Mr. Windley informed the Sheriff that the four personnel were added in the upcoming budget (2016). Later it was found that four salaries were added, no additional funds for equipment, training, uniforms or anything else was funded. The Sheriff questioned Mr. Windley about the lack complete funding. Mr. Windley advised the Sheriff that he (Sheriff) did not have to completely equip the personnel that would provide security for the courthouse. The Sheriff disagreed with Mr. Windley and stated that he would not enter into a project like this without the full support and funding of the initiative. The Sheriff stated that he would not be subject to an unfunded mandate that was not thought out and ill conceived.
Some of the confusion between select commissioners, other officials, as well as many people in the public is related to the issue of who is responsible for courthouse security. The Sheriff is attached to courtroom security by North Carolina General Statute 17E-1, which states the Sheriff is "the only officer who is responsible for the courts of the state, and acting as their bailiff and marshal." That provision codifies a common-law understanding of the duties of the Sheriff. The Sheriff therefore must provide security for court (rooms). The Sheriff is not necessarily responsible for the security of the courthouse. The Office of the Sheriff is funded by the County. At the time, newly appointed county manager Brian Alligood presented the commissioners with three options in relation to courthouse security expansion. Option 1 was to add four fully funded deputies and add cameras and other equipment that would be needed to secure the building. Option two was to enter into a contract with a private security company, the unarmed security would not have any powers of arrest. Option three was to do nothing. A motion passed to enter into a contract with a private security company.
The Sheriff attended the meeting that the security expansion was voted on and spoke against proceeding, not because he felt that additional security was not needed, but because the options had not been fully explored and he did not want the county to waste tax dollars because of lack of planning. The Sheriff also spoke about the gap in services that were being discussed. Without powers of arrest, the security personnel would need law enforcement support. The bailiff's in the courthouse, because of their statutorily required duties to provide security for courtrooms, would not necessarily be available to assist the security officers. A bailiff cannot leave a court that is in session to take care of a law enforcement action outside of the courtroom. The Sheriff explained that additional law enforcement would have to be added to fill in this gap in services. As of today, nothing has been added to take care of this problem.
On Friday, June 24th, 2016 the Sheriff spoke with Stacy Drakeford, Director of Public Safety for the City of Washington. The Sheriff informed Director Drakeford of the expansion of courthouse security and advised him that if the private security needed assistance from law enforcement that the call would be transferred to the Washington Police Department. This process is no different than if a call for law enforcement services came from the Department of Social Services, The Beaufort County Health Department, or the Beaufort County Administrative Office, all of which are located inside the Washington city limits. The Sheriff told Director Drakeford that if there was an emergency that was being reported, an event that there was information that people could be harmed, then the Sheriff's Office would respond with the Washington Police Department. Director Drakeford thanked the Sheriff for the call and said they would help however they could.
The purpose of this press release is to provide the public with enough information to form an opinion of what is going on with this matter based on fact, not speculation. The Sheriff encourages anyone that is interested or concerned about this issue to make contact with County Manager Brian Alligood or any or all of Beaufort County Commissioners if they have questions. You can also contact Sheriff Ernie Coleman or Chief Deputy Charlie Rose at any time if you have questions or concerns about anything that is related to the Sheriff's Office.
Chief Deputy Charlie Rose
Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office
210 North Market St. Washington NC 27889