Middletown judge rethinks safety after Ohio shooting

6:00 a.m. Monday, Aug. 28, 2017 Butler County
Leroy Cardwell, a Court Services deputy with the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, checks the security screening station as visitors enter Butler County Common Pleas Court on Aug. 24 at the Government Services Building on High Street in Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

The gunman killed after shooting and injuring a Jefferson County, Ohio, judge last week hit home for those working in criminal justice centers in the area.

Steubenville City Manager James Mavromatis said the deceased suspect ambushed Judge Joseph J. Bruzzese Jr. outside the courthouse, then Bruzzese and a probation officer returned fire.

Bruzzese was hit by gunfire, but is recovering.

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The incident 250 miles from Butler and Warren counties has raise concerns about security in local courtrooms and has some officials taking extra precautions to arm themselves.

Melynda Cook Howard, Middletown’s Municipal Court judge, said she immediately started carrying her weapon after the Steubenville violence.

“That was a direct assault on law and justice,” she said of the shooting.

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But it won’t change the decisions she makes on the bench, she said.

“Not change my perspective,” she said. “Always fair.”

Even before the shooting in Steubenville, Cook Howard, who owns her CCW license and who has taken self-defense classes, had discussed potential safety improvements in and around the City Building with City Manager Doug Adkins.

She has proposed turning the road that runs in front of the City Building to be for pedestrians only and closed to vehicles.

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She said the road is a “very easy route” for someone who wanted to cause problems in the City Building.

There are security cameras throughout the courtroom and the bailiffs carry weapons, she said. Cook Howard feels “most vulnerable” getting to and from work, she said. She said judges are “everyday people,” and they go to the grocery store, gas station and restaurant.

“We’re always aware of our surroundings, that’s only natural,” she said.

Both Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones and Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said they are armed on and off the job.

Gmoser agreed the county and the sheriff’s office do a good job with court security, but “there’s only so much the police can do.”

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The Butler County Prosecutor’s Office in on the top floor of the Government Services Center. It is not in the secure court wing, but Gmoser has made sure there is security.

“There are firearms at every door,” he said, declining to divulge specifics.

Jones said there has been an escalation of hate for those in the criminal justice system in the past several years “and it will get worse before it gets better.”

“My advise to anyone in the criminal justice system, you should have a conceal carry, you should carry it and be proficient with it,” he said.

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