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Don't take drugs to court

Searches by officers turn up all kinds of contraband on visitors

Door to 4th District Court in Provo is posted with a warning against camera phones. Cell users are asked to take the phones back to their cars.
Door to 4th District Court in Provo is posted with a warning against camera phones. Cell users are asked to take the phones back to their cars.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

PROVO — Frequent visitors to the 4th District Court in Provo know the drill. Open the door, empty the pockets, walk through the metal detector, then get quickly checked by a police officer.

The routine catches many first-time visitors off guard, say Utah County sheriff's deputies who guard the security checkpoint — and they have a substantial list of confiscated illegal substances to prove it.

"We get a lot of drugs," said Jerry Salcido, coordinator for security and bailiffs at the court. "People don't understand we check for those things."

Since drugs aren't metal, how do the officers find them?

It's the people themselves.

The deputies say when people empty their pockets of metal objects before walking through the detector, they'll toss keys, change and sometimes bags of drugs into the white plastic baskets to be X-rayed.

The officers, trained in spotting drugs, even ones camouflaged as cigarettes or packages of gum, pull the person aside, confiscate the drugs and issue them a citation good for a return to court at a later time.

"We don't even have to go stir up our arrests," said deputy Jason Bullock. "They come to us."

It's not just the drugs, however. In the office for deputies, there is a growing collection of confiscated drug paraphernalia.

Often, court visitors will leave unattended bags around the building's perimeter — a dead giveaway for drug items. Or, on their way into the building, people remember they've got questionable possessions and toss them into the bushes or trash cans outside the front door.

Officers comb through the foliage on a regular basis and have found a smattering of bongs, snort pipes and bags with drug residue.

Bullock said he is still surprised by how many drugs people try to sneak into the court.

"You wouldn't think (it would happen) in a government building," he said. "It adds (severity) to the charges too, because it's a drug-free zone."

The court is also a weapon-free zone, which means no sharp objects or anything that could be a weapon. In case there's ambiguity about what the means, there are four signs on the front door that proclaim in large type:

"PLEASE READ. The deputies will no longer hold any type of weapon including pepper spray, knives, scissors, sewing items, tools, etc. Also cameras, phone cameras and recording devices are not allowed in the courtrooms without the judge's permission."

Another sign reminds visitors to "Please return these items to your car before entering. The deputies will ask you to do so if you forget."

And they do.

"We've got signs posted, but nobody ever reads them," Salcido said. "We're constantly telling people to take their phone out."

Some court patrons may be new to the system and forget that their phone takes pictures, or that somewhere in their purse they have a small pocket knife. Those issues are short and quickly fixed. However, other visitors get hostile and argumentative.

"We have confrontations on a daily basis," Salcido said. "Some people are just stupid about things."

Stupid, because no matter the argument, no matter how short the court visit, knives are not allowed in the government building. Period.

Cameras are only allowed for adoption hearings and judge-approved meetings. And when a media photographer gets the OK to shoot pictures in a court room, it's only because they applied in advance, in writing, then got a written approval from the court.

Camera phones became a problem because judges worried photos of victims and jury members could become available for public viewing, subjecting them to potentially dangerous retaliation.

The deputies, who provide security from 7:30 a.m. to closing — whenever the last person leaves — used to baby-sit the phones, knives or other prohibited items while people took care of their legal business. That became too much of a hassle, as people would forget to return for their things and sometimes accused the officers of stealing things. So they changed their policy.

"We don't hold on to personal stuff," said deputy Dan Thomas. "It's too much of a liability."

But the biggest liability issues may fall on court patrons, who forget that although having drugs is bad, it's worse to bring them to a government building.

The officers have seen enough that they are no longer shocked, but they still shake their heads in amazement as they talk about what they find.

"We have some frequent fliers that bring something with them every time they come," Bullock said.