Courthouse security: Sheriff, JPs discuss adding dedicated deputy

Friday, September 6, 2019

By Scott Loftis

Security at the Carroll County Eastern District Courthouse in Berryville was among the topics of discussion at a meeting of the quorum court budget committee on Tuesday, Aug. 27, with Sheriff Jim Ross and justices of the peace talking about the possibility of creating a new deputy’s position that would be dedicated to the courthouse.

The discussion followed an incident the previous week in which a Green Forest man, Dennis Lee Whitaker, allegedly threatened to shoot people in the courthouse and then commit suicide. Whitaker was booked into the Carroll County Detention Center on Thursday, Aug. 29, on two counts of failure to appear and on hold for another agency. No further details of his arrest were immediately available. He was still in custody as of 6 p.m. Monday night.

At the Aug. 27 budget committee meeting, District 1 JP Jack Deaton said Carroll County Judge Sam Barr “wants someone on that front door from open to close.”

Ross said the sheriff’s department doesn’t have the personnel right now to provide that kind of security at the courthouse.

“It’s just not something that we can do, to take one of our road deputies and put him at that front door. As I’ve pointed out to various members of the public … Berryville city police have six square miles to police, and their department’s bigger, as far as patrol goes, bigger than ours with 630-something square miles. It’s just a fact of life. We don’t have enough people to do what we do, much less position someone at that door, no matter how much everybody wants it. It costs money, and that’s what this whole budget meeting is about: money.”

Deaton said the possibility of hiring an additional deputy was brought up at an earlier meeting of the budget committee.

“Then we were told there was no deal unless there was a car involved,” Deaton said.

“That just makes sense to me, Jack,” Ross said. “If there was nothing more than a marked unit sitting out front of this building, that would speak volumes to anybody threatening this building. If there’s also a man behind it, it just makes sense if you’re going to hire a full-time deputy, put him in a car. We’ll get a used car, for God’s sake, and put our marks on it and set it out there. But I want the man to have a uniformed car and gear, everything a deputy gets. It just makes good business sense.”

Deaton gave the example of a deputy who was dedicated to Holiday Island, but left the area to assist with a car wreck on Highway 412.

“He shouldn’t have done that,” Ross said. “That’s an issue. We can take care of issues if we know about them. … I will not make you a promise that, if the quorum court gives us another officer and everything I’ve asked for, that in a rare, rare occasion that man might not be sitting right there. If there’s something that happens a couple blocks over, or something happening in Berryville where someone’s dying, or gets shot at, or there’s a bank robbery that they can help with, I won’t promise you that they won’t leave that post for a few minutes. … That’s still a Carroll County deputy and he’s doing Carroll County work. That would probably never happen, but it could.”

In response to a question from District 10 JP Larry Swofford, Chief Deputy Maj. Jerry Williams said the sheriff’s office could probably purchase a used police vehicle with 60,000 to 80,000 miles for somewhere between $17,000 and $19,000.

“That doesn’t include the equipment, but the good news is this particular deputy wouldn’t be putting very many miles on it,” Williams said. “This particular car would probably last a good three to five years.”

“I’m not just willing to do this,” Ross said. “I’m eager to do it. I’ve even got the man picked out, who wants the job. … It’s all doable but we can’t make it happen tomorrow.”

Swofford said he agreed that the sheriff’s office shouldn’t be asked to pull one of its deputies off the road to cover the courthouse.

“We have the status quo now, and if the courthouse wants protection, the courthouse needs to come up with a way to pay for that person to be here,” Swofford said.

“It’s my understanding that the judge wants this to happen soon. The sooner the better, unless I’m wrong,” Ross said.

District 11 JP John Howerton said he believes it makes sense to hire an additional deputy with full benefits and equipment.

“I agree with John, because it’s only going to get worse,” Swofford said. “It’s not going to be better two years from now. If anything, it’ll be worse. I’d rather be proactive as trying to catch up.”

“I agree,” said District 2 JP Chuck Olson. “In today’s world, every threat is a serious threat, period.”

“Let me ask you this, Sheriff,” Deaton said. “We can’t wave a magic wand and make this happen overnight. … Do you have the personnel to cover this until we can get someone hired?”

“I’d have to do it myself,” Ross said. “We just don’t have that person.”

Swofford said he will sponsor an ordinance to put before the full quorum court to create the additional deputy’s position.

“I think we need the position,” Swofford said. “It’s going to cost us money, but we do things all the time that cost us money.”

The quorum court’s next regular meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 16, in the courtroom of the Eastern District Courthouse.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: