After years of discussions about a lack of safety, magistrate courtrooms in Bluffton and Beaufort now have security guards.
Two former Beaufort County deputies with courtroom experience have been rehired by the sheriff to keep order in traffic court, jury trials, the lobbies and halls.
Chief Magistrate Rod Sproatt's funding request this year for about $130,000 to increase security in magistrate courtrooms was granted. The courts are on Ribaut Road in Beaufort and on Bluffton Parkway in Bluffton.
Sproatt's original plan was to hire constables, who are appointed by the governor and must meet S.C. Law Enforcement Division standards. But instead of spending the money to recruit and train constables, Sproatt and Sheriff P.J. Tanner agreed that the Sheriff's Office would employ and equip two officers to patrol the courtrooms, with one posted in each location.
Tanner said he just happened to know two perfect candidates.
Gary Chase was a deputy who left the Sheriff's Office when he was appointed as a magistrate, but state law required him to leave that position when he turned 70. Now 72, Chase had been looking for full-time work in law enforcement again.
Fred Tiedemann, 67, patrolled the Beaufort County Courthouse while a deputy and later worked part-time providing courthouse security for the city of Beaufort. He also was seeking full-time work and, like Chase, was still in excellent health, Tanner said.
They started their new jobs last week. Tanner said Chase and Tiedemann are not authorized to speak to the media, like most other Sheriff's Office employees. Previously, few security measures existed at the magistrate courts, other than zip ties binding the legs of plastic chairs to prevent people from throwing them at judges.
Since the court's budget request in April and before the guards came aboard, two defendants on two separate occasions came into court with weapons -- one with a knife and one with a box cutter, according to court administrator Stephanie Garst. Both defendants were coming from work for their court dates and accidentally brought in the items, but the incidents show the need for guards, Garst said.
"Even though those (incidents) were oversights, there's always a chance that one time it might not just be somebody coming in from work who has forgotten to take their knife off their belt," Garst said. "With security, that would obviously be stopped at the door."
For now, Tiedemann and Chase will be armed with hand metal detectors instead of X-ray machines like those used in the Beaufort County Courthouse. Tanner said the Sheriff's Office will evaluate the program at the end of the year to see if better equipment or more guards are needed.