Heavy security marks murder trial, Gary hearing today

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 23, 2014 

Anyone with business at the Columbus Government Center this morning better get there early.

It's going to be a busy day, and at the main tower entrance and on the 10th floor, security will be extra tight.

It has been for a week now, up in Judge William Rumer's courtroom, where a dozen deputies, two in plain clothes, have guarded the murder trial of Dequandrea Truitt and Shaquille Porter, charged in the Jan. 1, 2013, fatal shooting of Charles Foster Jr. in the Majestic Sports Bar on Cusseta Road.

On one side of Rumer's courtroom, 12 to 15 members of the Foster family and their supporters have sat through four days of testimony. On the other side an equal number of the defendants' friends and family have watched.

At the conclusion of each court session, the judge has first kept everyone seated until the jury exited the floor. Then he has ordered one side of the audience to remain seated until the other left, keeping them from mingling in the hallways and elevators.

Besides a metal detector at the Government Center's ground-floor entrance, visitors have been scanned at a second security checkpoint on the 10th floor. Each day two or three deputies have staffed that checkpoint in addition to the dozen inside Rumer's courtroom.

Today, that same floor of the Government Center will get even busier as convicted "Stocking Strangler" Carlton Gary has a hearing in Judge Frank Jordan Jr.'s courtroom, which is just down the hall from Rumer's.

Yet the trial in Rumer's court remains the primary focus of the Muscogee County Sheriff's Office that provides courtroom security. Prosecutors claim some witnesses have been threatened, and they have tried to restrict media coverage to protect those witnesses' identities.

The judge last week had an armed escort when he went to lunch. Attorneys for both sides have taken an elevator used to transport inmates rather than the public elevators.

Sheriff's Maj. Mike Massey said the security measures are based on his staff's "threat assessment." He has decided the extra security is needed not just for safety, but also for ensuring no one disrupts the court, he said.

Authorities have not specified who was threatened nor described the threats. Massey said the "intelligence" he received was enough to warrant extra precautions. If not for that, the courtroom would have fewer deputies.

The level of security is decided case by case, he said.

"We may have a murder trial where you normally see two deputies on the prisoner, a couple of deputies in the courtroom, no audience, no media, no issues, and I may not have eight deputies in that courtroom," Massey said. "I've received no intelligence, no threats. … But when we receive credible threats, we have to act on that."

When interviewed Friday, Massey noted Gary's hearing was set for today.

"It will all be on this floor, so it will be even tighter out there Monday than it is today," he said.

The murder trial resumes today at 9 a.m. Gary's hearing is set for 10 a.m.

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