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Archive for Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Defendant’s stun gun sparks security worries

December 27, 2006

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— A criminal defendant was able to get a stun gun past guards and into a Jackson County court, raising questions about security.

Deputies were alerted last week after someone saw the stun gun in the defendant's satchel. They planned to charge the man - until they realized he broke no law.

A county law forbidding weapons in court does not include stun guns, and the state does not outlaw them. Officials are concerned a stun gun in a courthouse could lead to trouble, with someone possibly stunning a deputy and grabbing his gun.

Jackson County Legislator Denny Waits said he plans to introduce legislation next month to create a law forbidding stun guns in courthouses.

But court officials also are concerned about the difficulty security guards had in detecting the zapper.

The guards thought the stun gun was a cell phone. It was similar in size and went through an X-ray machine.

That and the fact that some stun guns are made to resemble other items, including mobile phones, has prompted some officials to question whether Jackson County courthouses should ban cell phones.

"You've got to modify security with the times," said Presiding Jackson County Judge J.D. Williamson, who added that he thinks more is needed than a county law forbidding stun guns in court.

Although federal courthouses ban cell phones and other electronic devices, Jesse Hathcock, security coordinator for the Missouri Office of State Courts Administrator, said he knew of no Missouri courthouse that banned them. Only a handful of states, cities or countries forbid citizens to have stun guns.

Hathcock noted one option might be to limit who can bring a phone into a courthouse.

Jackson County Sheriff Tom Phillips said officials must balance security and convenience. For security, he said, the answer is clear: "It's best to outlaw them all."

Jackson County prosecutor Mike Sanders frequently uses his cell phone at the Kansas City and Independence courthouses.

"We may be at the point where we cannot allow cell phones in the courthouse," said Sanders, the incoming Jackson County executive.

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