Commissioners approve additional officers at Berrien County courthouses

Published 8:04 am Friday, August 26, 2016

BERRIEN COUNTY — Two more law enforcement officers have been added to provide security at Berrien County courthouses following the tragedy that occurred at the St. Joseph courthouse in July.

On Thursday, the Berrien County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that will authorize the funding of one uniformed sheriff’s deputy at the Niles courthouse and one court bailiff at the St. Joseph courthouse, according to Berrien County Commissioner Jim Curran.

“We are trying to make it as safe as we can for everyone who comes into the courthouse,” he said. “We are trying to do the best we can with the dollars we have, while staying reasonable, and I think we are accomplishing that.”

Curran said the two full-time positions existed before Thursday, but were not filled during budget hearings in 2010.

The addition of the two positions comes after court officers Joe Zangaro and Ron Kienzle were shot and killed by an inmate who was attempting to escape the St. Joseph courthouse July 11. The inmate, who was handcuffed awaiting a court proceeding, came into possession of a gun by wrestling it away from a sheriff’s deputy. Responding officers shot and killed the inmate a short time later.

Since the incident, an ad hoc committee comprised of county commissioners, courthouse leaders and law enforcement has been meeting to discuss ways to improve the overall safety in the Niles and St. Joseph courthouses in order to keep a similar incident from happening again.

Last month, Berrien County commissioners authorized the placement of two additional full-time sheriff’s deputies at the courthouse in St. Joseph. At that time, the commission also authorized the purchase of more restrictive handcuffs for inmates and new holsters for deputies assigned to work inside the courthouse.

Curran said Thursday’s action by the commission was done to allow court officers to comply with a policy that states there must be two officers transporting all inmates from a holding cell to the courtroom and back.

The ad hoc committee is expected to meet again next week, Curran said, to discuss security at all county facilities.