LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — A police chief in Wisconsin has accused a county judge of compromising courtroom safety when she told his officers to not bring their firearms when they appear in court to testify against a man accused of threatening an officer.
La Crosse County Circuit Judge Ramona Gonzalez told three officers testifying in Mark Topness’ trial Tuesday they could not wear their firearms or duty belts in the courtroom, according to the La Crosse Tribune.
Topness was convicted of nine charges following the trial, including resisting arrest and attempted battery of a police officer. Prosecutors said Topness threatened the life of Officer Ethan Purkapile, spit on him and tried to kick him last November.
Purkapile had nothing to protect himself from a man who threatened to kill him,” said La Crosse Police Chief Ron Tischer. “To take away their ability to protect themselves and others is a frightening thought.”
Gonzalez said her policy, enforced during jury trials, allows officers to testify without the distraction of their guns. The judge says a gun visible to jurors could be grounds for an appeal. Wisconsin Supreme Court rules allow judges to individually set their courtroom policy on a case-by-case basis.
Purkapile said it was the first time he’s ever been asked to disarm in court.
“I was definitely concerned because it compromised my ability to protect the DA’s office staff, the jurors, the circuit court staff, Judge Gonzalez and myself,” the officer said.
Stripping an officer of a firearm presents serious safety issues, Tischer said, especially in an emotionally charged courtroom that can be prone to violence. La Crosse County Courthouse security officers confiscated more than 1,400 knives and more than 300 box cutters or razor blades in 2015.
Police officials said they’re not looking for a fight with Gonzalez but hope to work with her to develop a courtroom firearm policy that protects everyone’s safety.