County Commissioners approve barriers around Riverton courthouse; detention stats analyzed

A hand-drawn diagram of a plan to place Conex boxes around the Riverton Couthouse by Sheriff’s Capt. Ryan Lee.

By Joshua Scheer, reporter,

(Lander, Wyo.) – Fremont County Sheriff Skip Hornecker gave the Fremont County Commission his monthly report Tuesday morning, and much of the discussion surrounded security measures at the Riverton Courthouse ending with the approval of placing Conex boxes (steel shipping/storage containers) as barriers around the building.

Hornecker told the commission the plan was to place the boxes on Thursday, pending no major problems arise during a Riverton Courthouse Security Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The safety and security of workers inside the Riverton annex facility became a concern after a bullet was fired through the thin walls of the building into the Fremont County Circuit Court’s courtroom this summer. Three of the large steel containers have already been erected around the outside of the court’s portion of the building.

The Sheriff said he, Capt. Ryan Lee and Fremont County Building Maintenance Supervisor JR Oakley met with a Conex representative on Monday to work on the layout of the boxes around the building. One of the problems that arose was the barriers would create a corridor around the building that could be used as “hideaways,” Hornecker said.

Barriers in the form of some kind of fencing will placed at various points between the building and the boxes to keep the public from utilizing the newly created walkway. At some points, the interior barriers will have gates to allow personnel into the gaps as needed.

The cost could take an additional $2-3,000. The boxes themselves are being rented, at a rate of a little more than $21,200 a year. A 50 percent grant was awarded to the county last Thursday by the State Loan and Investment Board for $10,600.

“This is going to have an impact on our security cameras, and it’s going to have an impact on our lighting,” Hornecker said.

Hornecker said some of the cameras might be able to be turned to help see into blind spots, but he won’t know for sure until the boxes are in place. Additional cameras could cost a couple thousand dollars more.

Commissioner Keja Whiteman expressed concern that the Judge and court staff would be using the same access as inmates. Hornecker assured her that neither group would be traveling in or out of the building at the same time. He said Lee also believes the positioning of the boxes would not create a fire hazard.

County Clerk Julie Freese asked where the funds to pay for the boxes and fences were coming from.

Hornecker said he would talk to the security committee about using some of its Department of Homeland Security funds for the project.

“I don’t think the committee would have an issue earmarking $13,000 from Homeland Security,” he said, adding he wished to not speak for the committee.

Commission Vice Chairman Pat Hickerson said Homeland Security funds should be used only to the point where it isn’t jeopardizing other operations.

Other options for the courthouse’s security would be to rent space at Riverton City Hall, but Commissioner Travis Becker said preliminary figures there suggest rent could be $60-70,000 annually.

Hornecker said Lander’s facility isn’t large enough to house Riverton’s operations as well.

“This is probably the most cost effective,” he said of the Conex boxes.

Oakley said the area between the boxes and the building could become a “maintenance nightmare” with regard to snow removal.

Chairman Doug Thompson said the commission needed to formally approve moving forward with the boxes, adding that exact funding could be figured out at a later date. Becker moved and Hickerson seconded. The motion passed unanimously. Commissioner Dennis Christensen was not in attendance.

Other items on the Sheriff’s report:

-Hornecker provided numbers of incarcerations, with one stand-out statistic being a high ratio of pre-sentence individuals in detention versus those already sentenced. Of 175 inmates, 122 have not been sentenced; 53 have been sentenced. Hornecker believes the number to be an anomaly within the county, and he and  County Attorney Brian Varn are investigating what is causing the high ratio. So far, he said the only pattern that has emerged is that there seems to be a large number of probation/parole revocations. Most of those, Hornecker said are because of new charges ushering those back into detention.

Whiteman said she had heard concerns the number of un-sentenced to sentenced is high because of “differential treatment between natives and nonnatives.”

“There probably is some correlation in that regard,” Hornecker said, clarifying that it isn’t because of race but because of financial status and the ability to post bond.

Thompson asked if this could be because of jurisdictional issues with the tribes, and Hornecker said it wasn’t the case with his department. It could be, however, because of courts placing higher bonds on people who might leave the area if bonded out.

-In all, total in-house detentions are down by nine this month compared to last. There are 134 adult males in custody, and 30 adult females. One juvenile is being held in Sweetwater County.

-Positions in dispatch and detention are in the process of being filled.