Officials are making efforts to improve security at Montezuma county and district court after several people have recently escaped from court while in custody, Sheriff Steve Nowlin said Tuesday.
“It can happen,” Nowlin said. “We need to have better security. Our job is to keep it safe.”
Law enforcement officials will be meeting with court administrators next week to discuss improvements that can be made at both court locations, he said. They will find a more secure space to hold people who have been convicted or remanded from court and are waiting to be transported to the detention center, he said.
“That should alleviate the problem and get that taken care of,” Nowlin said.
On Sept. 8, Alexander Kordes, an 18-year-old man, escaped district court while waiting to be taken to jail. He fled the courthouse and escaped by foot down a Cortez city street. A deputy stationed at the entrance of the courthouse lost sight of him, but a witness stated he saw “a kid running in a southwestern direction” from the building.
He jumped into a waiting vehicle, Nowlin said. Kordes was arrested on Oct. 16, according to Montezuma County jail records. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in county court on Nov. 30.
Samantha Lamke, 30, escaped from district court on Nov. 8 after being convicted of possession of a controlled substance, a class 4 felony, according to a report from the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office. She was apprehended by Cortez Police officers and deputies at a Cortez residence on Nov. 17.
Only one security officer was on duty when Lamke escaped, Nowlin said. The department has money to pay for four total court security officers, with the county and state providing funding for two each. But Nowlin has applied for a state grant that would provide funding for two more, bringing the total to six.
The sheriff said some people might not realize how many people go in and out of court and pass through security every day.
“There are other people in the courthouse the deputies have to watch,” Nowlin said.
As the population of the area increases, the workload also increases for law enforcement and court staff, Nowlin said.
Though the jail has been crowded over the past few months, it’s down to about 90 inmates now, he said. Education programs are helpful for inmates and reduce recidivism, so the department will continue to develop those, he said.
Increased training for deputies has been paying off, but there’s still room for improvement in the department, Nowlin said.
Nowlin asked county commissioners for an increased budget in 2017 to hire 10 new deputies. The commissioners rejected that request in October, saying the county couldn’t afford his request or the district attorney’s request for a new hire because of falling oil and gas tax revenues from Kinder Morgan. County administrator Melissa Brunner reported that a hiring freeze and budget cut may be necessary to offset a $920,000 shortfall in 2017.
“We’re looking at a possible $920,000 shortfall,” she said. “I wouldn’t ask for it if it wasn’t justified,” he said.