By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU – Hours before county officials on Wednesday approved a plan to beef up security at the Marathon County Courthouse, a potential safety risk was eliminated by a watchful deputy on duty inside a courtroom: a man armed with seven knives.
That risk is just one example of the possible dangers faced each day by judges, prosecutors, courthouse staff and visitors, said Marathon County Chief Deputy Chad Billeb.
“The fact is, we just don’t know what’s coming in the building,” Billeb said.
Also on the minds of courthouse officials and staff: a lockdown prompted by an empty gun holster found in a courthouse bathroom.
On April 7 five judges, along with Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks, District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon, Corporation Counsel Scott Corbett and other courthouse officials sent a letter to County Administrator Brad Karger, Board Chairman Kurt Gibbs and Vice-Chair Lee Peek demanding the change. The letter, obtained Wednesday by Wausau Pilot & Review, outlines a formal request for security upgrades that are now underway.
Significant changes are planned, Billeb said, including modifying how and where people enter the building. A single entry will be configured, where security personnel with metal detectors will be stationed, he said. Arrangements will be made to accommodate people with disabilities who need assistance accessing the building.
The courthouse is also home to the Marathon County Jail along with a number of county administrative offices.
The cost of the upgrades, which will include hiring and training four to six part-time deputies for security purposes, has not yet been determined but will come from the county’s overall budget, Billeb said. Current part-time or reserve deputies could fill those positions, he said.
Courthouses in smaller communities, including in Lincoln, Langlade and Shawano counties, do not typically have metal detectors or other obvious security measures in place. But larger courthouses are increasingly using such safeguards to ensure the security of staff and visitors.
Marathon County is the 10th largest county in Wisconsin.
Billeb said the new measures should be in place within about four to six weeks.