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Enhanced safety measures at Swift County Courthouse could be in place this month

BENSON -- New security measures will be implemented at Swift County Courthouse in Benson to protect court personnel and the public.

The request for safety modifications was made following repeated actions by unnamed individuals who have distributed information that "could be perceived to be threatening and derogatory" in and around the courthouse, said Teresa Fredrickson, court administrator for Swift, Ka-ndiyohi and Meeker counties. She made the request Tuesday to the Swift County Board of Commissioners.

Board Chairman Dick Hanson said the improvements could be made yet this month. They were "very legitimate requests" and the county has money in the capital improvement fund for such ex-penses, said Hanson. "We plan on taking care of it."

In a letter supporting the improvements, Judge Jon Stafsholt said there have been recent incidents of emotionally disturbed individuals being "disruptive, disorderly and threatening" on the third floor of the courthouse, where the courtrooms and court administration are located in the Swift County Courthouse.

"Most of these people are using anti-government rhetoric and do not seem to have an appreciation or understanding of the rules of civilized society," wrote Stafsholt. "It may be only a matter of time before their confusion and anger lead to violence."

County Auditor Byron Giese said that on several occasions an individual has hand-delivered fliers with an anti-government message to the courthouse and put fliers on vehicles.

Fredrickson said the type of information being distributed in Benson isn't unique. Similar fliers have been seen in Kandiyohi County and other communities, she said.

Fredrickson said safety is always a concern at courthouses, but the recent incidents reinforced the need to make changes now in Swift County.

There are currently few security features in the courthouse, said Fredrickson. A bailiff is on duty when court is in session and the county sheriff's department is connected to the courthouse, but it's located three floors away.

The recommended improvements include new locks for office doors and a safety-glass barrier at the court administration counter.

Paul A. Nelson, Chief Judge for the Eighth Judicial District, wrote a letter of support for the safety modifications, saying the measures were "appropriate and needed."

The changes would not impair public access to the courts, wrote Nelson, but would provide an increased level of security for court staff, lawyers, participants and judges.

There are no plans to install a metal detector at the entrance of the courthouse.

Those types of security measures are expensive for smaller counties on a tight budget, Fredrickson said.

While the safety modifications that are in the works are primarily for the court administration, Hanson said safety in the rest of the courthouse is "always a concern."

With multiple doors to the building, he said it would be "very challenging" to monitor them.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750