County helping juveniles who testify in court
Custer County commissioners Monday gave a Weatherford company provisional permission to cut a hole in the ceiling of an upstairs hallway at the courthouse so children 13 and under can testify remotely in criminal cases without having to face suspects directly.
Actually, they can already do that using a portable television set, but Brittani Brice, victim witness coordinator for District 2 of the District Attorney System, indicated it will be less cumbersome if a wire can just be run across the hall through the ceiling. It would permit the youngsters to testify from a room not availa-ble to the general public and be seen and heard on a large-screen television set in a courtroom where a trial or hearing is taking place.
District Attorney Angela Marsee said both Beckham and Washita counties already have wiring in the ceiling and it’s a much smoother system. The hole is needed to access the wiring if repairs have to be made.
Mrs. Marsee said she authorized her office to apply for a $28,000 grant to install the system in Custer County and the grant has been awarded.
“We want to make sure juveniles don’t have to be in the courtroom,” Ms. Brice told the commissioners. “We want to prevent re-traumatism of young victims.”
The system was installed in Washita County when the courthouse there was completely remodeled within the past five years. Mrs. Marsee said it’s worked so well she applied for a grant to do the same thing at the Custer County Courthouse in Arapaho.
Both Ms. Brice and Kyle Burrows of BPAV (Burrows Pro-Audio Visual which will install the system) were at Monday’s commission meeting to answer questions about it and to seek permission to cut the hole in the hallway ceiling if it becomes necessary. It could be as large as 16 inches by 16 inches, depending on where they find beams, and will be covered with a small drop-down door that will be painted to blend in with the rest of the hallway.
While no final decision has been made, Brice indicated they’re thinking about putting the TV in the large Courtroom 1 used for major trials and in Courtroom 2 across the hallway.
“Five years ago we got a grant to buy a cart. It has our projector on it,” said Brice.
Burrows said this system will keep the high-definition TV system from having to compete with a row of windows in both courtrooms that are being considered.
Commissioner Kurt Hamburger wanted to know if there would be any issues with the trim that was part of the original courthouse, which itself was remodeled and expanded in the early 1980s.
“We talked about that,” said Burrows. “That’s one reason we’d rather do it in the hallway rather than a courtroom. A 16-by-16 access in the ceiling doesn’t seem as big a deal in a hallway as in a courtroom.”
Commissioner Wade Anders asked if the ceiling is plaster.
“It’s drywall,” answered Burrows.
Commission Chairman Lyle Miller said the hole covering will need to be repainted so it blends in with the paint that’s there now.
Burrows agreed but said his company doesn’t want to paint the whole hallway either. “We need to get with somebody to match the paint,” he said.
“You need to communicate with our maintenance man (Fred Huber) before you cut the hole,” said Miller.
Hamburger wondered about repair costs for the county. Burrows said he doesn’t foresee any.
Miller said somebody from the county – either Huber or County Clerk Melissa Parker – needs to verify the job after it’s finished and before BPAV leaves.