Chuck Williams: Government Center elevator issues a security risk

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 10, 2014 

It was a subtle scene last week in the Columbus Government Center, but one that is worth repeating.

During the murder trial of Lonnie Jacob Ragan, deputies with the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office, charged with securing the courtrooms and building, loaded Ragan onto a public elevator and moved him off the 11th floor.

A public elevator.

That is not how it is supposed to work. There is a prisoner elevator that has a cell inside it that deputies normally use to transport inmates. It was broken last week.

Why should we worry about those on trial for murder and other serious offenses using the same elevators you and I use?

Two words — Brian Nichols.

Facing rape charges nine years ago in Fulton County Superior Court, Nichols overpowered a guard, escaped inside the courthouse and killed a Superior Court judge, a court reporter and sheriff’s deputy before getting out of the building. He later killed a federal agent before he surrendered the next day.

Nichols is the worst-case scenario. But if you don’t think it could happen here or elsewhere, you are kidding yourself.

For some of the people coming through Muscogee County Superior Court, it will be their last taste of the real world before being locked away for a lifetime.

That could make them desperate.

And desperate people do desperate things.

Imagine if this had been a week before and Stocking Strangler Carlton Gary had been going up and down the public elevators?

As Ragan was being escorted out of Judge Gil McBride’s court for a lunch break last week, Ragan got into a verbal confrontation with deputies in a hall just outside the courtroom.

Ragan could be heard yelling at deputies. Later in court, Ragan accused the deputies of mistreating him, and his security detail was changed.

One thing you need to know about Ragan, who was convicted of the 2011 shotgun slaying of his sister-in-law Holly Hearn, is part of his defense was his mental condition that includes bipolar and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

It only took a jury 90 minutes to convict him of murder.

Yet because of the terrible condition of that Government Center, deputies were forced to parade Ragan through public areas.

“The infrastructure, plumbing, elevators and other things have become an obstacle in maintaining security we are required to maintain since the Brian Nichols situation,” said Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Randy Robertson.

Everyone who visits or works in the Government Center knows it is in terrible shape.

There are four public elevators — when they are all working — and lately it has been rare that they are all working. At times in the last two weeks, two of the elevators have had handmade “Out of Order” signs on them.

It was built in another era for another era. It is not an easy building to secure. We all get that. And it will take politicians with thick skin to spearhead a move to renovate or replace it.

It won’t be cheap.

But for now, we should at least expect the elevators to work and prisoners like Lonnie Jacob Ragan not to be riding the ones for the general public.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content,

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