Guest Opinion published August 16, 2018, Siskiyou Daily News
Occasionally I hear people grumbling about having to go through the security metal detector when entering the Siskiyou County courthouse. I understand their frustration. For most people it’s bad enough having to go to the courthouse at all. Sort of like going to the dentist for a root canal. I for sure grumble about the hassle of going through the TSA security line at airports, but nevertheless find it comforting to know that everyone on the airplane that I will be on also has been screened. People should feel the same way when entering the courthouse. I will tell you why the metal detector is there in the first place.
Prior to October 20, 2000, our courthouse had no security screening at all. You could walk through any of the ground-level doors without any kind of scrutiny whatsoever. There had been talk for years about courthouse security, but no action. It would be expensive. Like so many other things (think 9-11) it took a horror case to make it happen.
The Siskiyou County horror case was Edward Lansdale. Twelve years before he had sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl. When the case got to trial, his victim was about 26 years old and married. Lansdale was 68 and one of the most harmless-looking guys you could imagine. The trial had gone on for a week or so. The evidence and closing arguments had concluded, and the jurors were deliberating in the jury room. The deliberation room and the court room were at the north end of the second floor of the court house, directly across the hall from my chambers. I was sitting at my desk when suddenly I heard loud shouting, screaming, and sounds that I was sure were gunshots.
Lansdale had apparently hidden a small handgun in one of the courthouse restrooms. When the jury was deliberating, he retrieved the gun and chased both his victim and her husband down the hall, shooting at them and wounding them both. Siskiyou Daily News reporter Pat Arnold, who was in the courthouse covering the trial, took a photograph of Lansdale pointing his gun. She was probably no more than three or four feet from him. She received national journalistic recognition for her photograph. Lansdale stopped at the stairwell landing between the second floor and the first floor and turned the gun onto himself. He died shortly thereafter. Fortunately, the victim and her husband, although seriously injured, recovered fully.
The Assistant District Attorney who tried the case was William Davis, now the Presiding Judge of the Siskiyou County Superior Court. Although it was confirmed that Lansdale was dead, Mr. Davis convinced the court to allow the jury to complete their deliberations, and therefor get some closure to the case. The jurors were brought back into the courtroom, and instructed by the court to complete their deliberations, but they were not told what had occurred out in the hall. They had heard the commotion but did not know exactly what was going on. There were two very small restrooms connected to the jury deliberation room. The jurors later said that they crammed themselves into those restrooms and locked the doors and didn’t come out until the bailiff informed them that it was safe. The jury resumed their deliberations, and ultimately reached verdicts of guilty.
That incident was the catalyst for the creation of the court’s security system. Everyone would probably prefer our public courthouse to be as open and accessible to the public as possible, but in today’s world, the necessity for security is a fact of life.