Sheriff's Sgt. Michael Potts, left, and Assistant Fire Marshal Carl Peas, right, help a defendant determine if he had a pending court case Tuesday.
Several hundred General Sessions Court defendants crammed the Judicial Building hallways today, creating a safety hazard that required an assistant Murfreesboro fire marshal to ask non-defendants to leave.
Assistant Murfreesboro fire marshal Carl Peas asked sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Potts, who supervises the Judicial Building security division, to help clear the halls packed with about 400 defendants who came to court accompanied by family members and friends.
The dockets were overcrowded with court cases held over from the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
Judge Ben McFarlin allowed Potts to announce in court that people who didn’t have a case must leave the building.
Potts stopped people individually if they had a case. If they didn’t, he ordered them out.
Murfreesboro Fire Marshal Ken Honeycutt said the halls were supposed to be used to enter and leave the building. The overcrowded halls were a safety hazard in the event of an emergency where people panic and get in a hurry trying to get out.
Murfreesboro fire marshals will return to the Judicial Building Tuesday to keep people out of the building unless they have to be in court.
“If we have to be here every day to enforce this, we will,” Honeycutt said. “Our job is to enforce life safety and that’s what we’re going to do.”
For the short-term solution, Honeycutt hopes to meet with county officials to find an answer.
County Mayor Ernest Burgess said for the short-term, the district attorney’s office and the public defender’s office will use the former Youth Services offices to speak with clients out of the hallways when the new Juvenile Services and Correcttional Work Center opens in April or May.
The county has been studying options for another Judicial Building for courts.
“We are nearing the end of a study that’s being handled by a consulting firm,” Burgess said.
The consultants met with court officials to gather data about the workloads of judges and the spaces required, the mayor said. They hope to make recommendations through 2030 to deal with the increase in the criminal justice system.
Burgess expects to receive the report within two or three months.
“Hopefully, we will have enough information to build a plan over a reasonable period of time...to handle the increase of workload in the future,” Burgess said.
Until then, Honeycutt said the fire marshal’s office will monitor the hallways “on a daily basis if necessary.”
The Judicial Building is equipped with a fully-sprinkled fire alarm system.