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April 22, 2014

Courthouse violence unpredictable despite security

SALT LAKE CITY — When Utah's new federal courthouse opened last week, it came with security improvements that are becoming standard around the country: separate entrances and elevators for judges, defendants and the public; bullet-resistant glass and paneling; and vehicle barricades to keep car bombs at bay.

Even the design of the courtrooms, with plenty of sunlight and space, can help calm witnesses or defendants in high-stress cases, some judges believe.

But nothing can prevent every violent courtroom outburst. Authorities said that when a 5-foot-11, 230-pound, pen-wielding defendant rushed a witness during his racketeering trial Monday, a more old-fashioned form of security left him dead: an armed U.S. marshal.

Siale Angilau, 25, was shot several times in front of stunned jurors, lawyers and courtroom watchers. He was one of 17 people named in a 2010 indictment accusing "Tongan Crip" gang members of assault, conspiracy, robbery and weapons offenses.

The unidentified witness, who was unhurt, had been testifying about gang initiation when Angilau charged him, said Perry Cardwell, who was in the courtroom. Cardwell was there to support his mother, Sandra Keyser, who was punched in the face during a holdup in 2002.

Shootings at federal courthouses are rare, though not unheard of, around the country.

Last year, a former police officer who told friends he was dying of cancer was killed by law enforcement after he sprayed bullets into a federal courthouse in West Virginia. In 2012, a man committed suicide at a federal courthouse in Alabama, and in 2010, a man started shooting in the lobby of the Las Vegas federal courthouse, killing a court security officer and wounding a deputy U.S. marshal. The gunman was killed in a shootout.

Shootings in courtrooms themselves are even less common, largely because metal detectors ensure armed spectators don't reach them.

But defendants usually are not shackled when they appear at trial, absent extraordinary circumstances, making their outbursts unpredictable. Courts have held that it's unfair to defendants for jurors to see them restrained. It's unclear whether the U.S. Marshals Service, which provides security for judges and federal courthouses, had any unusual concerns about security in Angilau's case.

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