Rich Stanek says he has sought weapons screening for years.
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek blasted county commissioners Thursday for repeatedly stonewalling calls for stronger security measures in suburban courtrooms.
"Go up to the County Board on the 24th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, past weapons screening ... and when you get up there, ask one of the County Board members why their door is locked, " Stanek said. "Ask them why they've got two security guards in the boardroom, and occasionally deputies. What makes them any different from the other folks that use the division courts at Brookdale, Southdale and Ridgedale?"
Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat, whose district includes the Brookdale division, responded that only misdemeanor and gross misdemeanor cases are heard in the suburban courts. He also noted that armed deputies are posted in the courtrooms.
"It's an ongoing and evolving operational issue," Opat said. "We shouldn't engage in knee-jerk reactions by, at this point, one judge."
Stanek vented his frustration one day after Hennepin County District Judge Lloyd Zimmerman, who presides one week per month at the Brookdale courtroom in Brooklyn Center, refused to return until stronger security measures are put into place.
Court administrators say they'll make no changes at least until spring, at the conclusion of a four-month, $77,000 study by the National Center for State Courts to determine how to best improve security. .
Opat was one of two commissioners who voted against a $1.8 million security system at Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis in 2005, more than a year after one person was fatally shot and another severely wounded on the 17th floor when a distraught woman opened fire before a hearing over a restraining order.
Stanek said he's spent five years pushing for metal detectors at the county's facilities in Brooklyn Center, Edina and Minnetonka, but that his requests have been repeatedly denied by board members who said the cost was too high and the threat too low.
He reiterated those requests in a Dec. 30 letter to the County Board, citing the Dec. 15 shooting at the Cook County Courthouse in Grand Marais, Minn., that critically wounded a prosecutor and witness.
"I am as concerned as ever about the lack of metal detectors in the three Outer Division Courts in Hennepin County, and renew my request that we review this policy and install metal detectors without further delay," he wrote.
The domestic violence complaints and cases involving protective orders, often heard at the divisional courthouses, are among the most dangerous, he added.
"It's my mandated job to protect the safety and security of the courts," Stanek said. "I have concerns about how I'm able to do that job without having the resources I've asked for and recommended."
Hennepin County Administrator Richard Johnson cited the expense of installing, running and staffing screening as the reason for not adding new measures at the suburban courtrooms.
He said the Grand Marais shooting offers an opportunity to re-evaluate, but nothing is likely to happen until after the state courts study is finished.
Although Stanek said he understands Zimmerman's protest, he believes it's unlikely to win new security measures. "I think in a perfect world when you have lots of resources, we'd probably go to the full extent that he's asked, but that's not the case," he said.
"I don't want to leave the impression that we don't think this is serious," he added. "We do, it certainly is, as [Cook County] demonstrates."
Commissioner Jan Callison, whose district includes Ridgedale in Minnetonka and Southdale in Edina, agrees that what happened in Grand Marais brought renewed attention to the security debate.
She supports adding more security measures in the suburban courtrooms, but not immediately.
"Even if you decide to do it, you have to decide what is the best system," she said. "There are various ways of providing various levels of effectiveness. There's lots of information that needs to be gathered."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921