Coffee Co. Sheriff, DA Work To Improve Courthouse Security

MANCHESTER, Tenn. - Officials in Coffee County are working with the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy to determine what could be done differently to improve safety and security at the courthouse.

District Attorney Craig Northcott held nothing back at the last commissioners meeting with concerns over the lack of trained courthouse officers. 

"Personnel issues are things that we're going to need help from county commissioners and the county budget to address," Northcott told NewsChannel 5.

Northcott mentioned the shooting in June last year when an inmate in the process of being arraigned, overtook a deputy and took his gun.

Michael Bell shot two deputies before turning the gun on himself.

He added that a court officer left a gun in the bathroom for someone else to find in February.

"The person who got the gun did not have any ill intent in using it. It was turned immediately to the appropriate personnel but obviously it was a scary situation that we needed to address and take care of," said Northcott.

Northcott said all of the officers working at the courthouse are not meeting proper requirements. With four courtrooms and the rest of the courthouse, only four officers met the required Peace Officer Standard and Training Commission (POST) certification. 

Sheriff Steve Graves admitted not everyone is POST certified. The four other officers have undergone courthouse security training.

Officers are required to take a 40-hour class for courthouse security and 16 hours of additional training each year. 

Recommendations by the law enforcement training specialist will likely require more funding.

Graves hoped to get more officers. 

"Our courthouse is an old school that we've turned into a courthouse. That's why I think it may even take more officers than what we are planning on because there are so many entrances and exits," said Graves.

County Mayor Gary Cordell said the budget is being reviewed right now. Exactly how much it will take to improve security will depend on the recommendations from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy.

Despite the blunt approach by the district attorney in the last meeting, he and the sheriff are working together. 

"I think us working together and taking it to the commission, we have a better chance of reaching our goal," said Graves. 

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