La Paz County has hired a private firm to provide armed security for entrance screening at the county courts. A contract with Allied Universal Security Services was approved by the Board of Supervisors at their Oct. 5 meeting. Megan Spielman, the Clerk of the La Paz County Superior Court said the $200,000 cost for fiscal year 2020-21 will come from the county’s general fund.
Spielman said the guards are needed to bring the county courts into compliance with security directives from the state.
The La Paz County Courts have collectively solicited and obtained $150,000 in funds from the Arizona Administrative Office of the Courts for improving court security to meet the state standards, Spielman said. However, they had to look for local funding because the AOC does not fund security personnel or ongoing court costs.
The AOC is an office of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Spielman said the Sheriff’s Office has done a “tremendous” job at providing security for the Superior Court. However, by state law, (ARS 11-441 (A) (4)), they are only required to assist the Superior Court, not the justice or municipal courts.
The need for security guards was caused by the Arizona Supreme Court issuing Administrative Order 2017-15 in 2017, which itself was prompted by a shooting at the Navajo County Superior Court on June 28, 2016.
In that incident, Salomon Diaz shot and killed Ashley Utley and Sherry Quintero-Davenport outside the Navajo County Courthouse in Holbrook, Ariz. Utley was the mother of Diaz’s grandchildren, and Quintero-Davenport was her mother. Utley had just been awarded temporary custody of her children in a bitter custody dispute.
Diaz accepted a plea agreement where he pled guilty to two counts of second degree homicide. He was sentenced to two consecutive 25-year prison terms in October 2018.
As a result of this incident, the AOC established the Court Security Standards Committee to assess security in Arizona’s courts, develop recommendations for security standards, and develop recommendations on implementing those standards. Their recommendations were included in Administrative Order 2017-15, which was issued on Feb. 8, 2017.
The order, which was signed by Arizona Chief Justice Scott Bales, said all courts in the state would need to adopt and implement all the standards and procedures set down in the order. The order went into effect July 1, 2017, and state courts had three years to come into full compliance.
The order had this to say about armed security at the courts: “The presiding judge of the county shall determine whether court security officers may carry firearms in the courthouse for the purpose of maintaining court security. Once the AOC Administrative Director adopts a firearms training program, such training must be completed prior to actively carrying a firearm in the courthouse. Contract security guards with valid armed guard cards shall have six month to complete that training. Moreover, courts with armed court security shall develop protocols for court security officer involved shootings.”
Among the security-related items La Paz County Court purchased with funds from the AOC are alert systems, surveillance systems, and entryway screening.
Allied Universal was founded in 1957. They have offices in Arizona in Phoenix, Mesa, Tempe and Tucson. On their website, Allied Universal said they have 60 years of experience, serve 50,000 sites worldwide, and have 200,000 employees. They describe themselves as the largest private security company in North America. They also offer technology services, as well as services in risk advisory and consulting, staffing, event services and janitorial services.
Speilman said court customers should see Allied’s presence in the courts in the coming months.