Ogden courthouse evacuations create lengthy backlog of cases, officials say

Friday , April 20, 2018 - 4:25 PM

OGDEN — On Thursday, Ogden’s 2nd District Court was evacuated and searched for the third time in as many weeks, leaving court staff and law enforcement aggravated and behind schedule. 

Whether you are a judge, bailiff or someone with a court date, the evacuations and canceled hearings create obstacles and headaches. 

Lt. Nate Hutchinson of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office said Friday morning the bomb threats have caused a ripple effect and impact many workers in his department.

Cancelling and moving court hearings can cause bailiffs, who are employed through the sheriff’s office, to have to work overtime, Hutchinson said.

The threats cause delays for those incarcerated, which prevents their cases from being resolved and can keep them in jail longer. Once those in custody are evacuated from the courthouse and are taken back to jail, it’s difficult to shift in reverse and bring them back, according to 2nd District Court executive Larry Webster. 

The evacuations force sheriff’s deputies to focus on clearing the area and ensuring the threat is not credible, Hutchinson said, which keeps them from doing other parts of their job.

“It totally disrupts the court process,” Hutchinson said. “Calling in these threats is just not worth it.”

On Thursday, April 5, 12 and 19, Ogden courthouses have been evacuated due to bomb threats called into police dispatchers. Each time, the courthouses were searched and cleared with no signs of a bomb being found. The searches involve a number of agencies and personnel, including specialized bomb-sniffing dogs. 

Police announced the arrest of two people Friday in connection with the false bomb threats. Tonisha Lester, 44, and Jerry Larkin, 44, were booked into Weber County Jail for allegedly calling in the false threats, according to Capt. Danielle Croyle with the Ogden Police Department.

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Geoff Fattah, spokesman for the Utah State Courts, said these sorts of threats and evacuations can cause a large backlog of cases, making judges and other court employees lose time and have to work through hearings more quickly. 

If there were 100 cases canceled due to a courthouse evacuation, Fattah said it could take up to a week for the court to make up the court hearings. Webster said 100 cases is a conservative guess on how many hearings have been canceled or rescheduled due to the three evacuations. 

Worst of all, courthouse closures impact those who are trying to resolve their court cases, pay fines or use the court for its many other functions. 

Thursday was supposed to be the final day of a jury trial, but because of the bomb threat and evacuation, the trial will have to go another day and keep jurors from returning to work, Fattah said.

The list of cases piles up quickly, Fattah said, and the court will have to find ways to reschedule the hearings in the next few weeks. 

Fattah thanked jurors and court patrons for their patience amidst the canceled hearings and evacuations. He added that the threats are very disruptive and, not to mention, a crime.

“Whenever we have these kinds of threats, it’s a criminal act,” Fattah said. “We can’t assume that a threat is not credible.” 

Contact reporter Jacob Scholl at jscholl@standard.net or follow him on Twitter @Jacob_Scholl.

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