As Durham County’s new courthouse was going up, authorities said it was built for tight security.
They meant it.
In the first two weeks the courthouse was open, sheriff’s deputies made two felony arrests and caught 59 people who had arrest outstanding warrants.
“Let it be known that criminal activity in and around the courthouse will not be tolerated,” Sheriff Mike Andrews said in a prepared statement.
The public is invited to experience a bit of courthouse security – and festivities – at ceremonial open house there Sunday afternoon.
Everyone going inside has to pass through airport-like electronic screening. (Shoes don’t have to come off, but belts do.) Once inside, visitors may take self-guided tours and try out the touch-screen display that explains each of the 265 pictures making up the “And Justice for All” mural on the lobby wall. (You can also see the display at bit.ly/14tUAwE.)
The 11-story, $119-million courthouse opened for business Feb. 11, but the open house includes a formal ribbon-cutting with Chief Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson presiding. Chief District Court Judge Marcia Morey said state Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker and U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield are expected to be on hand as well.
Narcotics and a theft led to the felony arrests, the first coming Feb. 19 when deputies smelled marijuana coming from a car in the new 897-space parking deck. Searching the car and its driver, they found crack cocaine, marijuana, plastic bags and $300 in cash, and charged Antonio Lee Keith of Durham with possession with intent to manufacture, sell or deliver and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Eight days later, a courthouse visitor reported a cell phone and iPad missing from a hallway bench outside a courtroom. Security camera footage showed a man picking the items up and walking away. Deputies promptly caught Christopher Dane Kimball of Creedmoor, still in the building, and charged him with larceny.
Both suspects have been released on bond. In the first two weeks, deputies also wrote two traffic tickets and made arrests on two misdemeanor drug charges.
According to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Paul Sherwin, most of the 59 people apprehended on outstanding warrants were at the courthouse to make court appearances on other charges.