Judge lauds improvements to Bertie County Courthouse

Published 1:57 pm Tuesday, July 18, 2017

WINDSOR – Bertie County local government is moving forward with a project to improve security at the county’s historic courthouse, and that effort pleases at least one court official.

At a workshop conducted by the Bertie Commissioners here last week, Chief District Court Judge Brenda Branch took a few moments out of her busy schedule to thank the board for approving the security project.

“We (Judicial District 6) want to personally and publicly thank you for these pending improvements for the Bertie County Courthouse,” Judge Branch stated. “We understand what you’re up against; not to have the funding to take care of everything at the level you would like to. But you listened to our concerns about safety at the courthouse.

Chief District Court Judge Brenda Branch thanks the Bertie County Board of Commissioners for the pending security improvements at the county’s courthouse. | Staff Photos by Cal Bryant

“We have a wonderful working relationship with the leaders here in Bertie County. You made sure to implement safety measures that were exactly what we needed,” she added.

Branch shared a letter of thanks she authored with the commissioners. In it she also praised the support of Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Cy Grant, Bertie Clerk of Court Vasti James, and Bertie Sheriff John Holley over the proposed plans to improve the courthouse security. 

“After beginning our on-going safety meetings in March of this year, we became aware of many security issues within the (Bertie) Courthouse,” Branch wrote. “To that end, Sheriff Holley and Chief Deputy (Kenny) Perry spoke with Deputy Doug Jernigan about contacting with Mark Sullivan, Captain with Wilson Police Department, and Billy Raeford, retired from Wilson County Sheriff’s Department.  After contact was made, they led us on a walkthrough of the courthouse.

“Based on their experience and training, they pointed out many safety concerns that we incorporated into our plans of improvement for courthouse security,” Branch’s letter continued. “(Bertie) County Manager Scott Sauer and (Bertie) Building & Grounds Supervisor Anthony Rascoe noted that some of the concerns could be addressed immediately with little or no cost to the county. However, they did find that most of the proposed plans would be an expense to the County.”

Judge Branch concluded her letter by saying, “In an effort to secure the courthouse facility for the employees and citizens of Bertie County, you, the Commissioners, gave unanimous approval of those security plans. When these improvements are implemented, the citizens of Bertie County, members of the Bertie County Court system, as well as, the law enforcement community will be much safer.  We believe we will be protected as much as possible because of your votes of care and concern.”

Following Branch’s remarks, John Trent, Chairman of the Bertie Board of Commissioners, asked for the public’s patience while this work is being done.

“The public needs to be aware that there will be some construction here to improve the security in the courthouse,” Trent said. “That will cause some delays; we would advise those using the courthouse to arrive early to handle those delays.”

To demonstrate the need to improve security at the facility, Sauer said the heavy metal door leading to the holding cell on the second floor was taken to the locksmith shop where the bottom was trimmed off, revealing several hidden items.

Bertie Sheriff John Holley looks at a bucket containing several interesting items discovered inside a door leading to the holding cell at the courthouse.

“A whole bunch of stuff fell out,” said Sauer, who then reached into a bucket holding those newly discovered items and showed a shank (homemade knife), a letter to now retired District Court Judge Rob Lewis, cash, cigarettes, and bubble gum.

“Somehow they were able to hide things inside that door. That only reinforces the need to improve security in our courthouse,” Sauer remarked.

“I thank ya’ll for these safety improvements, they’ve been a long time coming,” said Bertie Sheriff John Holley. “At one time I felt this county was 40 years behind the times, but now we’re moving forward by leaps and bounds. My number one concern since I’ve been in law enforcement and as the Sheriff has always been the safety of our citizens. What we’re doing with these safety improvements at the courthouse will go a long way in helping to protect our citizens as well as those who work in the courthouse.”

These latest improvements to the courthouse come on the heels of major structural work performed a year ago to reinforce the 128-year-old building.

That work also included bullet-proof service windows in the Clerk of Court’s office, and commercial grade glass doors and new heavy duty frames, both in the front entrance facing King Street, the side door on Dundee Street and the rear doors where a breezeway links the courthouse to the county’s administrative building.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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