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Jefferson County personnel prepared to deal with violence in courtroom

December 9, 2009

County personnel prepared to deal with violence in courtroom

JEFFERSON – Jefferson County Branch II Circuit Court Judge William Hue’s courtroom was almost full Monday afternoon with an even mix of the families of murder victims Gregg Peters and Jennifer Luick, and what some believed were members of local motorcycle gang the Diablo Lobos, of which accused killer Andrew Wirth has been associated.

This type of situation, of course, has potential to be volatile and gives those in charge of courtroom security fits. However, it was handled safely and efficiently by Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department personnel from start to its wild finish.

Wirth is charged with the murders of Luick, an Oconomowoc Police Department officer, and her boyfriend Peters early Sunday morning outside Vinnie’s Rock Bottom Saloon and Eatery in downtown Jefferson. The two were shot to death after what investigators believe was an altercation with Wirth.

As Wirth, dressed in jail orange, his neck tattooed with a large “Nothing To Lose” across the front, was being led into the courtroom to face the pair of first-degree intentional homicide charges, he attempted to communicate with family and friends in the gallery. He was immediately ordered by a large deputy at the front to face forward.

As Hue took the bench and began the proceeding during which Wirth’s bail would be set, the 25-year-old Jefferson resident became increasingly agitated. He sat with his head in his hand and cried at one point. He fidgeted more when his bail was set at $1 million cash.

When the brief hearing concluded, Wirth rose and yelled “This is (expletive) ridiculous,” and lashed out at a deputy. With that, six of the approximately one-dozen attending Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department deputies pounced on him, dragging him across his defense table knocking aside corded microphones and documents. In an instant Wirth was out of the courtroom and feeling the stuns of a Taser. The courtroom was immediately cleared.

“Given the seriousness of the defendant’s offense and looking at the weapon used in that offense – that being a gun – we looked at all those tangibles together and said, ‘This is a situation in which we want enough people on board,” Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department Chief Deputy Jeff Parker told the Daily Times Tuesday. “We had the victims’ families in court with their potentially emotional responses and, given the gravity of the situation, you want enough people on board to control that.”

Parker said Wirth had been completely cooperative with investigators and other law enforcement officials prior to being taken into the courtroom Monday.

“We had no reason to think he would be a problem,” Parker said. “But as he sat in the courtroom, he became more emotional and anxious and the deputies saw body language that indicated he was getting more excited. One deputy actually responded that he found himself totally ready for the situation that took place.”

Parker said that, in the two decades he has been an employee of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, Mon-day’s flare-up involving Wirth is the worst in terms of violence he has ever seen in a local courtroom.

“This is the first time we had a defendant in a courtroom be this violent,” he said.

Parker said that, considering the nature of Wirth’s outburst at his first court appearance, security measures will be taken in the future to make sure such an incident does not occur again.

“In the future appearances with him, one of the tools we have available is the use of electronic control devices such as stun belts,” Parker said.

The sheriff’s department has stun belts in the county jail.

“What we will do now is make a written request of the attorneys and the judge overseeing case to use the stun belts for future court hearings. That is an option,” Parker said. “The other thing available is to have more people on hand to control him, because he has shown behavior warranting concern. We also have video cameras inside the courtroom that allow staff outside to watch.”

Parker said another option would be to keep Wirth incarcerated in the jail next door and have him work with the court from there via video-conferencing technology.

Parker noted that during Monday’s courtroom violence no deputies were seriously injured. Apparently, neither was Wirth.

“There were some minor cuts and scrapes (to deputies), but that was it,” he said, adding that Wirth was examined by a jail nurse after the altercation and Parker said he was not aware of any serious injuries to him.

“I don’t know the results of that examination, if any,” Parker said, adding Wirth was the recipient of a Taser shot inside the courtroom and what he called a “drive stun,”or follow-up Tasering while the initial probes were still in him, in the adjacent hallway outside view of the gallery.

Wirth’s next appearance in Jefferson County Circuit Court is sct for Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

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