Loaded pistol in courthouse prompts Beaufort County security review

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Loaded pistol in courthouse prompts Beaufort County security review

By KYLE PETERSON
kpeterson@beaufortgazette.com
Published Sunday, December 11, 2011   |  828 Words  |  

A St. Helena Island man who brought a loaded pistol into a Beaufort County magistrate courtroom has prompted officials to review security at public buildings.

The incident also could spur administrators to move magistrate judges from the Arthur Horne Building to the main county courthouse, where they would be behind a security checkpoint and metal detector.

"It's something that we should have done years ago," Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner said. "And I feel fairly sure that it's going to happen."

PACKING HEAT

At about 3:30 p.m. Oct. 25, Andre Daise, 28, was arrested in magistrate court with a bag of marijuana in one pocket and a loaded .22-caliber pistol in another, according to a Sheriff's Office incident report.

Two deputies were in the courtroom when Daise entered and they were "overwhelmed with the odor of burnt marijuana," the report states.

"Daise's eyes were bloodshot, and he appeared to be under the influence of an unknown substance," a deputy wrote.

When the deputies asked to check his pockets, Daise told them they could not. But after he was escorted from the building, he admitted to having marijuana. Deputies began to arrest him for simple possession, read him his Miranda rights and asked if he was carrying anything else they should know about.

"Daise lowered his head and stated, 'I might as well tell you, I have a pistol in my back pocket,'" the report states.

Daise was arrested and charged with carrying or displaying a firearm in a public building, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, and unlawful carrying of a handgun, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year.

The 14th Judicial Circuit Solicitor's Office will prosecute both charges, spokesman Daniel Brownstein said. Those charges are pending.

Daise remains in county custody, according to the Beaufort County Detention Center log. He pleaded guilty to simple possession of marijuana Nov. 21 and was given credit for time served and assessed court costs of $205, according to court records.

CURRENT SECURITY

Before entering Beaufort County's main courthouse, visitors must pass through a security checkpoint with a metal detector.

No such checkpoint exists at a separate bulding where magistrate court is held.

But that doesn't mean the building is not secure, Tanner said.

Deputies are often at the magistrate court to testify, and a roving officer at the government complex stops in periodically. When judges are concerned about a defendant with a history of violence, they can call law enforcement to stand guard for the duration of the hearing, he said.

During a November executive session, County Council discussed "the development of security personnel and devices," according to a meeting agenda, but no action on the matter was taken in public.

County administrator Gary Kubic said security measures are constantly reviewed as warranted. But he said he could not confirm whether any changes have been made as a result of the Daise incident.

Tanner said he has told council that adding additional deputies for security is an option, but one that comes with a cost the council would have to pay.

Kubic said it's also necessary to understand that higher security means more inconvenience, as residents wait in line, open their briefcases and walk through scanners.

"It is a much more complex process than most people understand or want to understand," he said.

OFFICE SWAP?

Another option might be to move the magistrates inside the county courthouse.

That's where they used to hear cases. About five years ago, the Solicitor's Office, which was previously in the Arthur Horne Building, moved into the courthouse, which placed a security checkpoint between prosecutors and defendants.

But space in the courthouse was limited, and when the solicitor moved in, magistrates had to move out.

Now, to make way for the magistrates' possible return, Tanner suggested the probate court, which deals with cases that have a lower risk of violence, relocate.

Probate judges handle estates, guardianships and marriage licenses for newlyweds.

Attempts Friday to reach Clerk of Court Jerri Ann Roseneau, who has authority over the courthouse, and chief magistrate Darlene Smith were unsuccessful.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.

RELATED CONTENT:

Magistrate: Courts need more security, Oct. 30, 2005

Courtroom safety high priority in South Carolina, Sept. 25, 2005

Beaufort solicitor's office to move next month, Jan. 13, 2005