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FEAR AND LOAFING: Trying Experience
Our reporter tries his hand as a deputy marshal

 

Click on the photos to enlarge them...


Photos by Gary Thompson












 

"Cuff him!" Judge J. Charles Thompson instructs bailiff Rick Wilds upon laying eyes on me. "He's impersonating a law-enforcement officer!"

Welcome to my first adventure punishable by up to a year in prison, a $2,000 fine, or both. My last of several assignments as a bailiff at the Clark County Regional Justice Center is to stand behind defendants in drug court, where criminal cases end up when court-supervised rehab is ordered.

Whenever Thompson remands a wayward defendant into custody, it's little old me who gets to slap on the cuffs. Cool.

But how will I know when the judge wants a remand?

"Oh, you'll know," bailiff Lindell Williams told me. "He'll say 'remand.' They always say the word."

Actually, my job title is deputy marshal, not bailiff. With a regime change in the sheriff's office last year, Clark County's bailiffs were authorized to create a new name for themselves and did.

I'm making somewhat of a name for myself today, too.

"Whoa, whoa!" shouts Judge Thompson, pointing at the defendant who is exiting the courtroom.

I thought it sounded remand-ish when Thompson shook his head in disappointment and said, "Four days." It had just been announced that the defendant -- who was originally busted for marijuana possession -- submitted to a urinalysis whose result suggested that he is still in possession of marijuana (or at least has a really good friend who is).

"You've been in this court long enough to know better," Thompson admonished the man.

But he never uttered the word "remand." In fact, the only person I've heard the judge order cuffed so far is me.

Neither Williams nor Wilds -- who was busy checking defendants in -- reacted, either, so the defendant's plan to turn around and walk toward the door went entirely unimpeded.

"Grab that man!" Thompson yells.

Other than allowing a prisoner to nearly escape, my shift went pretty smoothly. It began at 7 a.m. at the south gate, where visitors who tripped the metal detector were greeted hello by my Garrett Superwand.

"You'd be surprised what some people try to bring in here," said Deputy Marshal Vincent D'Amore. "Knives, needles, pipes."

D'Amore showed me a photo of a .22 caliber zip gun confiscated a couple of weeks ago.

"Some girl was trying to bring it to the trial of a gang member," he said. "She also had handcuff keys." (She was arrested and turned over to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for possessing an unregistered gun.)

Another thing I learned while working the gate is that attorneys get to go to the front of the line -- just like at the gates of hell.

Oh, and about 50 of the 5,000 visitors per day wait until they get to court to realize that they're carrying a pocket knife. Little do they know, however, that marshals regularly walk the building's outside perimeter, confiscating all knives stashed in the bushes because their owners either took the bus or didn't want to walk back to the court's outrageously expensive parking garage (or the Golden Nugget, where, like me, they will later validate their ticket and pretend to have spent all day gambling).

Deputy marshals at Regional Justice train for five to six months before getting assigned to one of the building's two front gates. The pay is $38,000 plus county benefits -- more if they're personally selected by a judge to man a specific courtroom.

"It's a good job," said D'Amore, a 34-year-old Patchogue, N.Y., native who has worked here for a year without being selected. (Before that, he says, he was a flight attendant and pursued a career with the Metropolitan Police Department, but quit during field training and won't go into any detail about it.)

"It's not as dangerous as being on the streets, because it's a little more of a controlled environment," D'Amore said. "But it can still get dangerous."

Courtroom fistfights are a regular occurrence, for example.

"A lot of times, rival gangs show up and they'll be on each side," D'Amore said.

Three or four months ago, D'Amore walked a witness in a criminal trial outside and into an ambush by some of the men she testified against.

"We had to break it up and separate them," said D'Amore, who received help from two other marshals. "We put them all in cuffs and searched them all."

"They were pretty big guys," said D'Amore, who, like me, is 5-foot-5 and claims to be 5-foot-6.

Earlier this morning, I pleaded for a gun. I know how to handle one. (Some of you might remember the Israeli anti-terrorism training course I took in 2006.) But I received no love in this regard. D'Amore's supervisor even denied me a stun gun and mace.

This was a smart decision, I realize now, because the finder's keeper's rule can have deadly consequences when invoked by a violent felon. On March 12, 2005, a rape suspect named Brian Nichols shot a judge, a court reporter and a pursuing deputy to death in a downtown Atlanta courthouse, then escaped. The gun he used was stolen from a sheriff's deputy.

"We've been lucky and been good with security," said D'Amore, who is much happier making headlines as one of several escorts for a certain fallen football great.

That's right. It's D'Amore and his co-workers who you see in the frame next to O.J. Simpson. Their job is to isolate him from the public even further than he has isolated himself.

"If someone comes over to him for an autograph in the courtroom, we kick them out," D'Amore said. "If anyone takes a picture of him, we take their cameras away and delete it."

On his last visit, D'Amore reported, the world's most famous defendant "would talk a lot, to anyone who would listen." D'Amore said Simpson even tried personally engaging him in a conversation about Miami, where he currently lives.

"He loves to talk," D'Amore said. "But then they told him to stop talking."

Simpson will have his next chance to catch up with D'Amore beginning on April 7.

"Grab that man!"

Back to that escaping prisoner thing.

With every muscle in my quaking legs, I tear after the defendant, who is probably unarmed unless he is among those I wanded at the gate.

Just as his right arm reaches the door handle, I seize and twist it forcefully behind his back. I pin it there, then reach for the other arm.

And when I say I, I of course mean Wilds. I did nothing but narrate the events you just read into my digital recorder.

Williams, by the way, is a trainee who has never worked a day in drug court. Although he was correct about judges usually saying the word "remand," they frequently have different methods of communicating the same idea. Some judges even do it with a motion of their eyes.

"Nice job," Wilds says. "You almost got me in a lot of trouble."

Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section. Levitan's previous adventures can be found at www.fearandloafing.com.

 
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