County courthouse staffers train for 'worst case scenario'

By Trace Christenson
Battle Creek Enquirer

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. (AP) — Two men with guns had already shot a deputy at the front door of the Calhoun County Courthouse and were roaming the hall selecting other victims.

It could have been the worst day possible inside the building, but it was a training day while the courts were closed for the President’s Day holiday.

The young intruders, Cody Madsen and Garrett Brown, had been recruited to play bad guys and were armed with airsoft guns, not real rifles and handguns, the Battle Creek Enquirer reported.

They roamed the main floor at the building, shooting at a dozen or more people before deputies swarmed from other parts of the building and shot both intruders, also with airsoft guns, before providing medical help to the “wounded” deputy at the front entrance.

Earlier, two other men had begun to argue outside a fourth-floor courtroom before throwing punches and wrestling on the floor as onlookers cheered and interfered with deputies trying to separate the fighters.

It was a day when one woman was taken hostage, a defendant was attacked by a spectator and several people attempted to swarm into the building while chanting they had the freedom to make a video.

“We are trying to prepare our deputies for the worst case scenario,” said Sgt. Matt Gault, who supervises officers assigned to courthouse security.

Each year about 210,000 people enter the county courthouse, Sheriff Matt Saxton said. And deputies detect or confiscate more than 6,000 pieces of contraband like cell phones, knives and pepper spray.

The day was designed to be a response to critical incidents, including active shooters, and Gault said it was the first time in about 10 years that similar training was held inside the four-story courthouse.

And courthouses can be dangerous, Gault said. It’s a place where many people are angry and hostile as they arrive to participate in or watch divorce proceedings or highly emotional homicide or rape cases.

“They are not here for happy reasons,” Saxton said. “At least one of the parties is not here on their best day. On any given day something can happen to make it a bad day.”

In addition to officers assigned to the courts, deputies from patrol and the department’s Special Response Team assisted in the training as well as some employees from court offices and law enforcement students from the Calhoun Area Career Center and Lifecare Ambulance.

During part of the training, Chief Judge Michael Jaconette was presiding over a trial when someone from the audience stormed into the well of the courtroom and tried to attack a person playing a defendant.

A few minutes later in another training moment, the man playing the defendant attacked the deputy and attempted to take his handgun.

“With the amount of movement in the building there is just a lot different things that can go wrong,” Gault said.

Deputy Todd Madsen, who helped prepare the training, said the goal was to put some stress on deputies and to prepare them to respond quickly to the unusual, either alone, or as a group.

Madsen told the group they have difficult tasks when confronted with a crisis because of so many innocent people can be in the courthouse.

He showed deputies how to carry their handgun as they respond to a threat to minimize accidental shootings while protecting themselves and eliminating the perpetrator.

“The target is hard because there are so many friendlies,” he said. “You have to know where the rounds are going.”

“We have to increase the odds of survival,” Madsen said. “We have to be like water, fluid and adaptable to change.”

In the worst case, Madsen said, “We have to kill them or they will kill us.”

Gault said the trainers will evaluate the good and the bad from the training and he hopes to continue with more.

“We see everything we did right today and we see everything we did wrong and this gives us a baseline to improve on. I think we did a lot of things right for as many moving parts as we had, everyone did phenomenal.

“We are seeing where we need to improve on training,” Gault said. “We are planning for the worst and praying it doesn’t happen but we need to be ready for it if it does.”


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