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December 21, 2014

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Courthouse contraband: What metal detectors, searches uncover at the Regional Justice Center

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Steve Marcus

Office assistant Ingrid Gonzalez and attorney David Derrickson look over a display of confiscated weapons and prohibited items at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, September 19, 2013.

Confiscated Weapons at RJC

Clark County Deputy Marshals Mike Petty. left, and Ronald Ramsey show off a display of confiscated weapons and prohibited items at the Regional Justice Center Thursday, September 19, 2013. Launch slideshow »

On the first floor of the Clark County Regional Justice Center, down a winding hallway and behind a locked door — to which only three people have a key — are a bucket of knives, freezer bags stuffed with permanent markers and a pile of jewelry.

It’s a room of the forbidden and the forgotten.

Much of the bounty — considered either dangerous or otherwise prohibited — was confiscated from people who entered the building and passed through a metal detector on their way to the Justice Center’s courtrooms. The rest was turned in to security in the hopes of reacquainting the rightful owner with the found merchandise.

In 2012, marshals confiscated 6,940 knives and 1,046 other banned items from visitors or workers at the courthouse. This year, marshals have collected 3,273 knives and 341 other items, according to records last updated in August. That's a small percentage when compared with the number of visitors to the building; 1,084,921 people visited the Regional Justice Center in 2012 and 818,566 had been through the detectors through August this year.

Most of the contraband winds up in the closet-like room that’s also part lost and found.

The room’s gray plastic bins are labeled: scissors, utility tools, pepper spray, knives and miscellaneous weapons. Among the potentially perilous are also the precious: wallets, watches and a depressing number of engagement rings.

Once a month, the knives and other potential weapons are destroyed. Firearms are turned over to Metro for storage as evidence. Jewelry is saved in case someone comes to claim it.

The Sun met with some of the marshals and talked about the items that make their way to this room and how they got there.

    • What happens when someone brings something illegal to the Justice Center?

      If it’s a gun, you’ll be arrested — even if you’re a lawyer — and the gun will be taken into evidence. Case in point: Traffic attorney Kirk Ryan Helmick was charged in April after marshals found a handgun in his briefcase; the case is pending in Las Vegas Township Justice Court.

      Other illegal items — such as double-edge knives, ninja stars, brass knuckles or pipes with drug residue — will definitely be seized and the owner may or may not be arrested.

      A crack pipe, per se, isn’t a no-no inside the building — if it’s clean. Marshals will only take a pipe if there is drug residue on it.

    • What about fake weapons?

      Toy guns and keychain bullets also will get someone pulled aside in the security line. While such items might seem harmless, a member of the public could see the item and panic, said Deputy Marshal Curt Taylor, one of the room's three keyholders.

    • What if the person doesn’t want to give up their contraband?

      If the item isn’t illegal, marshals give the visitor the choice of abandoning it or taking it off the property.

      Removing the item from the courthouse grounds sometimes can create a problem. About 50 percent of the time, the person who takes this option won’t walk off the property, Taylor said. They step outside, look around and set it down against the building.

      Another popular choice is to slide the weapon into the courthouse’s large address sign. Marshals watch for this, retrieve items left there and take them to the room with everything else.

    • How do people react?

      Most people are running late to court and just want to give up the item and move through the line, marshals said.

      Deputy Marshal Ronald Ramsey said a common explanation is, “I’m carrying my sister’s purse.”

      Marshals will find most items to confiscate in overstuffed purses, he said, noting a surprising amount is contraband cutlery.

      A common excuse is the woman had just been to the steakhouse and slipped the restaurant’s knife into her bag, Ramsey said.

    • The common and the weird

      So, what are the frequent fliers to the forbidden room? Bartenders often have corkscrews. Manicure scissors and permanent markers also are seized often. Taylor said most people understand giving up the markers when he explains that graffiti is a concern in the courthouse corridors. The markers are collected and donated to schools or churches.

      Some of the stranger items include blinged-out brass knuckles, sword canes, ninja stars, blowtorches and what is either a long knife or a small sword with a red tassel and a swastika.

    • What about the lost items?

      About 90 days ago, Taylor started looking after the room. Having just lost his wallet, he took the lost-and-found responsibility to heart and made a few changes. When he is able to find identifying information on an item, he sends a letter to the person. The letter invites them to come identify an item they might have left at the courthouse.

      “I make a reasonable attempt to bring stuff back to people,” Taylor said. “It’s nice when it happens for real.”

      Taylor remembers fondly reuniting an attorney with a beat-up business card holder. The holder didn’t look like much, but Taylor could tell it had sentimental value. It had belonged to the attorney for years, and he was ecstatic to get it back because a paralegal had given it to him when he started his law career, Taylor said.

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