Lloyd proposes armed officer in court
Lloyd Supervisor Paul Hansut invited Town Justices Terry Elia and Eugene Rizzo to last week’s Town Board meeting to discuss having an armed Lloyd police officer present when court is in session.
“I have always had concerns that there is not an armed officer protecting, not only the two of you [judges], but to protect the public coming to pay their tickets or deal with whatever court issues that they have,” Hansut said.
Hansut acknowledged that he and the judges have not always agreed on this point in question.
“The bottom line, as it’s been explained to me by legal counsel and the Unified Court System, if something were to happen in that courtroom it’s coming back on me, so that ain’t happening,” Hansut said.
Rizzo asked why the need for a change at this time, since “we’ve been going on this way for 10 or 15 years?”
Hansut said that what is happening in the world today warrants increased court security.
“We’re living in a very violent, evil society and I don’t want to get a call at home that something has happened to you or to Terry [Elia] or to anyone who is coming into our court system,” he said. “I think we have to address it.”
Rizzo, who has served as a judge for 27 years, said, “I probably have more chance of getting a fatal injury in my car going home than I do sitting up on that bench.”
Rizzo said on most nights when criminal matters are before the court, armed officers from Ulster County are present.
“I’ve never felt the need to have an armed officer, but they’re there,” Rizzo said, adding that he is unsure of the benefit of having another officer there. The judge said he was under the impression that the town’s insurance company did not want an armed clerk in town court, “unless he was a police officer.”
“We’ve been going like that as long as I’ve been sitting, without incident,” Rizzo recalled.
Hansut pointed out that quite recently a person came into the Lloyd Court and “was asked to leave, came back into court and started a problem.” Rizzo said a weapon was not drawn during that incident and two armed officers handled the situation.
Hansut said the town’s insurance company believes there is already an armed officer in court, something Rizzo said he was not aware of.
Rizzo said he has loyalty to employees and would not like to lose the court’s unarmed employee who is now in the court [Larry Fuhrmann] “just because we think we need an armed clerk up there.”
Fuhrmann is a retired police officer, is certified but does not carry a gun in court.
Hansut said the Lloyd Court is the only one in the county without an armed individual present – “some have two or three.”
“In all due respect your honor, I don’t want somebody getting hurt and I think this is a decision we [Town Board] have to move forward with,” Hansut said.
Judge Elia said if the board does hire an officer he asked that Fuhrmann be kept on while training takes place. Hansut said Lloyd Police Chief Daniel Waage has posted within his department for someone to take the position.
“Hopefully by our next meeting we’ll have a decision on what we’re going to be doing there,” he said, adding that Fuhrmann may be kept on as an alternate.
Rizzo said a new individual would have to have the flexibility to be available for hearings, which do not happen on a fixed time schedule. Hansut, who is a retired detective, said he would fill in when necessary.
“I will be up there with my firearm; I am certified, I will be there,” he said. “That’s the way it’s going to be your honor. I’m not going to take a chance of someone getting hurt under my watch.”
Hansut said the Town Board will also be discussing how to provide security to the court staff and for Building Department personnel who work next door to the court.
“We have to look out for their best interests, as well,” he said, adding that he does not understand why these security issues were not addressed long ago.
Councilman Jeff Paladino said he sided with the supervisor.
“It’s a different world we live in than it was in the past,” he said. “I think there is a certain level of security, at a minimum, that we should provide.”
Police Chief Waage said just because nothing has happened in court in the past is no longer a valid argument to not provide security today.
The board will also be exploring whether a lethal weapon is needed in court or if a taser and pepper spray would provide an adequate level of security. Hansut said he would like the position to be filled by a qualified part-time police officer. A decision is expected to be made at the board’s Feb. 20 meeting.
By MARK REYNOLDS