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Courtroom fracas raises concerns about security


Fri, Mar 21st, 2003
Posted in Features

The issue of courtroom security was on many minds at the Fillmore County Courthouse on Monday. At the conclusion of a sentencing hearing in a domestic assault case, the son of the victim attacked the defendant.

According to the criminal complaint, William Bruce Manhart, 22, of Harmony, grabbed Tom Laqua, took him to the floor and started punching him. Laqua, of rural Harmony, had just been sentenced by Judge Robert Benson after pleading guilty to gross misdemeanor domestic assault in an incident involving Manhart’s mother.

Normally there is no law enforcement present during routine hearings unless an inmate is being accompanied to court. On Monday, Fillmore County Sheriff’s Deputy Anthony Webber happened to be in court with a prisoner awaiting the next hearing when the incident took place. Consequently, when Manhart attacked Laqua, Webber was able to quickly subdue Manhart and handcuff him.

Manhart was alleged to have told Sgt. Webber that he was upset with the sentence Laqua received.

“Tom didn’t get anything,” Manhart was reported to have told Webber.

Laqua was given a $3,000 fine and 365 days in jail, with $2,100 of the fine and 185 days in jail stayed. Laqua was also ordered to go through chemical dependency treatment and attend domestic abuse classes.

Manhart appeared in court on Tuesday and faces assault and disorderly conduct charges. His next hearing is May 21.

According to Court Administrator Jim Attwood, some counties contract with uniformed security firms.

“Winona County contracts with a firm to provide courtroom security,” Attwood said.

Attwood said that courtroom security is always under review and whether any procedures need to be changed because of the incident will be discussed.

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