The Bartholomew County Courthouse was under heightened security Wednesday after an employee in Superior Court Judge James Worton’s office received a threat from a telephone caller who hinted at violence against a judge or someone else at the courthouse.
Maj. Todd Noblitt said the Sheriff’s Office has started an investigation.
Worton said one of his staff members fielded a telephone call Tuesday in which a man who had been involved in a year-old court case warned:
“Someone’s going to pay for this, one way or the other.”
Courthouse security rules
The Bartholomew County Courthouse follows standard security procedures.
Visitors entering the building’s main entrance must empty their pockets of all objects and walk through a metal detector.
They are subject to a more detailed search if it’s deemed necessary.
A Dec. 17 joint ruling by all Bartholomew County judges prohibits anyone other than judges, law enforcement personnel, probation officers and corrections officers from bringing weapons into the Courthouse, the County Services Center, the Community Corrections Center and Youth Services Center.
Prohibited weapons include:
Electric stun guns
Source: Order on courthouse, court services security
Neither the caller’s name nor the background of the court case was released by authorities. In an interview Wednesday morning, Worton described the man’s comments as “a verbal tirade.” He added: “I’m not sure what the phrase, ‘Someone’s going to pay,’ means exactly.”
Bartholomew Circuit Judge Stephen Heimann said his staff was told there had been a “death threat.”
The severity of the threat prompted Heimann to bring a sidearm to his office at the courthouse on Wednesday. He retrieved it from a drawer in his desk in chambers and showed it to a reporter after being asked if he felt he needed a weapon for protection in this instance.
Heimann said he carries a weapon, and sometimes keeps it concealed at the bench in his courtroom, if there’s a specific threat of violence that police are taking seriously.
Worton, a former police officer, said he has a permit to carry a handgun, but he didn’t wear one on Wednesday.
“I do own a gun,” he said, adding he doesn’t rule out having it concealed at the bench if he feels it becomes necessary.
Superior Court Judge Kathleen Coriden could not be reached for comment.
Noblitt, a spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office, confirmed the courthouse implemented extra security measures because of the caller, although he declined to be more specific. Otherwise, he said the sheriff’s office is “in the process of conducting an investigation and tracking down some leads.”
Earlier, the caller’s mugshot was posted in various offices for courthouse employees to see, although it was not in plain sight where visitors to the courthouse might also have seen it.
“We just wanted everyone to be aware. We didn’t want to create a panic,” Worton said Wednesday before starting his court for the day.
“We get these every year or two,” Heimann said, adding that all judges at the county courthouse have the option of being issued firearms for protection when they take office. He said he brings a firearm to work only when there’s a credible threat.
“I’m actually more protective of my staff and my family than I am of myself,” Heimann said Wednesday afternoon.
Bartholomew County court rules prohibit anyone other than judges, corrections officers and law enforcement personnel from carrying weapons into the courthouse. The prohibition also applies to other weapons, such as knives, stun guns, clubs or explosive devices.
Heimann carries a Sig Sauer P232SL pistol, a compact sidearm 6.6 inches in length known for its accuracy and relatively light weight.
On Tuesday evening, Heimann appeared with the Sig Sauer pistol stuck in his waistband at a County Council meeting.
“Pardon my sidearm, it is not for you all,” Heimann said when he stepped forward to comment on an agenda item at the council session.
“It is one of the aspects of our job that you may not be aware of, but there is a threat out against us right now. We’ve got a poster of a guy who has threatened to kill himself in my office and kill my staff.”
Worton said Wednesday that his concern had been heightened by a Wilmington, Del., courthouse shooting this week that left three people dead.
In that situation, a custody battle that included an international kidnapping and prison sentences for a former optometrist and his mother ended in gunfire at a Delaware courthouse, with the doctor’s father killing his former daughter-in-law and another woman before fatally shooting himself, Delaware State Police said.
“The safety of our staff and citizens who do business at the courthouse every day is extremely important,” Worton said.
Before being elected as a judge last fall, Worton’s background was as a career law enforcement officer. He is a former Columbus city police chief.
Republic reporter John Clark contributed to this report.