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By DAMON LAWRENCE
County officials see a better way to transport prisoners to and from the Roane County Courthouse.
That’s why plans are in the works to construct a sally port on the side of the building.
“It’s going to be done this fiscal year, and hopefully this calendar year,” County Executive Mike Farmer said.
A sally port is a garage-like structure that will allow officers to take prisoners into the courthouse without exposure to the public.
Farmer said the sally port will have a door that allows an officer to drive in with a prisoner as the door closes behind them.
Once inside the sally port, the officer will be able to remove prisoners from the car and take them inside the courthouse.
“There wouldn’t be exposure out open because it’s a sealed unit,” Farmer said.
Commissioner Bobby Collier, chairman of the courthouse security committee, likes the sally port plan.
“No doubt it’s going to help when we have those high-profile trials and we’re bringing people in from different places,” Collier said. “I would have loved for us to have had it before, but unfortunately, we didn’t.”
Courthouse security is a big priority. That attitude can be traced to the events that happened on Aug. 9, 2005.
That was the day Brushy Mountain corrections officers Wayne “Cotton” Morgan and Larry “Porky” Harris were shot by Jennifer Hyatte in the courthouse parking lot. She shot the two men to help her husband George Hyatte escape state custody. Morgan died from his injuries.
While Farmer said he’d like to see the sally port completed this fiscal year, that could be wishful thinking.
Three high-security trials are scheduled to take place at the courthouse over the next seven months. Sally port construction could create a security risk.
The double-murder trial of Rocky Houston is set for November. Rocky and his brother, Leon Houston, who are being tried separately, are accused of killing Roane County Sheriff’s Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along passenger Mike Brown in May 2006.
Jennifer Hyatte received a life sentence for her crimes after pleading guilty in September 2007.
George Hyatte, who could receive a death sentence if convicted, is scheduled to stand trial in December. His lawyers want the trial moved out of Roane County, but a judge has yet to rule on their request.
The re-trial of Leon Houston is scheduled for March. A jury failed to reach a verdict when he was tried this past July.
The improvisation that has to take place without a sally port was evident during Leon’s trial. The sheriff’s office used school buses to block access to the area that Leon entered and exited the courthouse each day.
The sally port should end those kind of piecemeal security measures.
“We’ll be able to pull our transport vehicle inside a secure area,” Sheriff Jack Stockton said.