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Quite a weapons cache found at L.A. County courthouses

Screeners at the county's 48 court buildings confiscated thousands of knives, guns, scissors, razors and other weapons last year.

February 20, 2009|Andrew Blankstein

Security screeners at Los Angeles County's 48 court buildings last year confiscated 53,302 knives, 24,783 scissors, 21,014 razors, 8,208 pairs of handcuffs and 114 stun guns -- enough to equip a small army.

Those figures form one of the more interesting -- and unsettling -- statistical categories in the latest Los Angeles County Superior Court annual report.

The review found that the number of banned weapons seized jumped to 245,868 from 199,015 two years earlier. A total of 21 million screenings were performed in the L.A. court system, the nation's largest, in the first 10 months of last year.

Other finds: assorted hand tools, brass knuckles and a sword disguised as a cane.

Screeners also seized seven unspecified lethal weapons, two daggers and two handguns.

In one instance at the Long Beach courthouse, security personnel found a gun hidden inside a woman's diaper bag. The woman had come to see her husband, who was appearing in court to face charges of making terrorist threats, and was unaware she was carrying the gun.

"The weapons screen capability is literally life and death for anyone who works or does business in courthouses," said court spokesman Allan Parachini.

"As time-consuming as people may find it, it is absolutely critical."

Security screenings were instituted a decade ago in the aftermath of a deadly shooting at the downtown civil courthouse. In September 1995, a Woodland Hills physician carried a .38-caliber revolver into the building and fatally shot his ex-wife during a hearing on their divorce petition. Harry Zelig claimed he was in an uncontrollable haze of rage and fear that coincided with the anniversary of the day his parents were incarcerated in a World War II concentration camp.

Zelig was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997 and sentenced to 35 years to life in state prison.

Since security screenings became widespread, the majority of the guns seized at courthouses in recent years have been taken from lawyers who forgot they had one in their briefcase, Parachini said.

"As far as we're concerned, a gun is a gun," he said. "Once a gun is inside a courthouse, you have no control over who may have it, who may use it, and who may take it away from someone else and use it. There is no such thing as a minor gun seizure incident."

Anyone coming to a court building should treat the experience like a trip to the airport, Parachini said.

The seized contraband is gathered up at the various courthouses several times a year, loaded onto a truck and destroyed, Parachini said.

--

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

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