Video review: Officer dives down courthouse stairs to prevent suspect's escape
Court security officers must be ready at any given moment to respond to a critical incident in the courtroom
It is not uncommon for a person who is being taken into custody in a courtroom to flee or attempt to flee from custody. It is imperative every bailiff is properly positioned and aware of what is always taking place in the courtroom to prevent an escape from occurring.
In the following video, you will see a suspect who was sentenced to jail for meth possession being handcuffed by a bailiff when he manages to break away. The suspect runs through the courtroom and out of the unsecured courtroom exit door into the open lobby area. The suspect then runs down a flight of stairs. One bailiff flies headfirst over a banister attempting to stop the suspect. The suspect escaped and the bailiff suffered four fractured ribs and a concussion. We cannot fault the officer for his commitment to stop the fleeing suspect and pray for his quick recovery.
Court security officers must be ready at any given moment to respond to a critical incident in the courtroom. Here are some training tips:
- Every bailiff should read and periodically review the court security policies and procedures;
- Develop a plan ahead of time to respond to disruptive courtroom persons;
- Always consider the “what ifs” and role-play scenarios where courtroom security is threatened.
Before court begins, the lead bailiff should complete a courtroom security checklist and inspect the courtroom for any contraband, hidden weapons, explosive devices, or unusual objects.
The lead bailiff should review the court docket and be aware of who will be appearing in court and attempt to identify any potential problems.
The lead bailiff should also ensure there is enough security to cover all exit points from the courtroom to prevent escapes and ensure court security officers are in proper positions.
All bailiffs in the courtroom should be are aware when someone is about to be taken into custody and ensure all entry and exit points are secured.
All extra bailiffs assigned to the courtroom should be aware of their surroundings and pay attention to what is going on in the courtroom. Do not allow civilians in the courtroom gallery to take your attention away from your duties or play as a decoy to move you away from exit doors. Anyone preventing you from doing your duties can be removed from the courtroom.
Bailiffs should not do the following in court:
- Look at their phones;
- Read anything other than the court docket;
- Allow people to distract them from their duties.
The first bailiff aware of an escape incident should call via radio giving the escape signal (call signal 6 in progress) and the following information:
- The location;
- Description of the suspect;
- The direction the suspect is heading.
Once the escape signal is given and a supervisor requested all radio transmissions should only be in reference to the escape incident.
An attempt should be made to capture the suspect as well as continue to radio the suspect's location so main courthouse entrances can be locked down ahead of time and ready for the fleeing suspect. Follow further instructions from supervisors and bailiffs regarding the pursuit of the suspect.
The first supervisor on the scene should take the following actions:
- Ensure the first bailiff on the scene has taken necessary actions;
- Cease all inmate movement within the courthouse;
- Order a lockdown;
- Ensure all section members are aware of the situation;
- Establish an inner/outer perimeter;
- Deploy additional members as needed;
- Designate a scribe to record all events in chronological order;
- Maintain perimeters, inmate control, area searches and courtroom searches and activate courthouse security escape plans.
Refer to your agency's critical incident policies and procedures and make notifications as directed by your agency. Some of the people who will need notification include:
- Outside law enforcement;
- Bureau captain;
- Division major;
- Department chief;
- Office of legal affairs;
- Emergency operations center;
- SWAT commander;
- Court administration.
If the suspect does escape, a warrant for their arrest can be issued and they will eventually be picked up. These types of escape attempts occur more often than people realize. Do not let your guard down and keep your head on a swivel. Preventing escapes protects our citizens. Never become complacent in the courtroom.
This article is based on my 10 years as a lead bailiff and assisting in the preparation and writing of my agency's “Quick Reference Manual for Critical Incidents” for our court security section. I have also taught “Court Security Crisis Intervention Training” around the state of Florida for the Florida Sheriff’s Association. Thank you all for your service.