STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. PONSOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
September 16, 1998

The Hon. John H. Chafee, Chairman Environment and Public Works Committee 410 Dirksen Senate Office Building Washington, DC 20510

Dear Mr. Chairman:

In response to your letter of September 11, 1998, Chief Judge Joseph L. Tauro has designated me to testify at a hearing before your committee on September 17, 1998 regarding, among other things, the FY99 courthouse construction requests of the Administrative Office. I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to appear.

At the suggestion of Amy Dunathan, I am presenting, in thin written form, an outline of the remarks I intend to make at the September 17 hearing.

As I understand it, your committee wishes to hear, from someone with direct knowledge, the reasons supporting the authorization of funds for construction of a new courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts. The justification for such an authorization can be briefly summarized: the current building housing court operations in western Massachusetts presents a clear and present danger to the physical safety of persons using it.

Over three and a half years ago the Marshals Service concluded that "the current Springfield Federal Building should not house the federal courts" due to numerous, substantial security deficits in the building. In a letter of May 23, 1995, Wendell C. Shingler, Chief, Administrative Services Division of the United States Marshals Service concluded, in reference to the Springfield told Federal Building, that "the longer the public, Judiciary, U.S. Marshals Service and other building tenants continue to operate under these conditions, the greater the continued risk for incident in loss of life at this location." See Attachment A appended, at page 3.

The building occupied by our court facility is not, properly speaking, a courthouse at all. It is a federal office building featuring a large glass atrium with multiple entrances, and numerous other incompatible uses, to which our court operation has been awkwardly joined. Its problems include multiple unsecured entrances, the lack of any secure van sallyport for prisoners, the absence of any secure prisoner corridors, the inadequacy of secure prisoner/attorney interview rooms, a shortage of courtroom holding cells, the absence of any dedicated prisoner elevators or secure circulation systems, and the inadequacy of the U.S. Marshals central cellblock.

Springfield is located on a corridor leading north from New York City to New Haven and Hartford. Connecticut, through which the contagion of criminal gang-related activity has flowed to Western Massachusetts. A large number of my criminal cases now involve drug and gun-related gang prosecution involving acts of violence. I have tried cases where gang members have been convicted of drive-by shootings. Currently before me in a three-month gang-related trial of charges brought under the RICO statute, containing allegations of both murder and conspiracy to murder. Gang-related violence has broken out in the immediate vicinity of my courthouse and flowed even into the federal building courtyard as the attached incident report of February 5, 1997 attests. See Attachment B. appended.

Perhaps the most dramatic evidence of the court's vulnerability appeared on two occasions, in March of 1994 and January of 1997, when bullets or projectiles were shot into the windows of my courtroom from a nearby parking garage. See Report of March 28, 1994 and letter of April 3, 1997, appended as Attachments C and D.

The absence of any secure mechanism for moving prisoners into the building or within the building during court proceedings makes our court facility, in my view, a disaster waiting to happen. I had hoped, as recently as 1995, that the buildings deficiencies could be cured through renovation. However, a careful study of thin option by the Marshals Service resulted in the conclusion that this would be "literally impossible without the expenditure of millions of dollars Even then, it in not clear that the problem would be solved

The dedication of scores of people in the Springfield facility, particularly the U.S. Marshals Service and their contract staff, has bought our operation time. This hard work, along with good luck, has kept tragedy at bay, but even the beat efforts cannot compensate for thin building's deficiencies, and good luck does not lent forever I request your committee's assistance in authorizing the funds to permit, as promptly as possible, the commencement of the construction of a adequately secure Court facility for Springfield.

Again, I thank you and your committee for the opportunity JO peas on these comments.

Very truly yours,

Michael A. Ponsor
U. S. District Judge
U.S. Department of Justice


United States Marshals Service
May 23, 1995

Mr. David Bibb, Deputy Commissioner
Public Buildings Service
General Services Administration
GSA Central Office Building
18th & F. Streets, Northwest
Washington, DC 20405

Dear Mr. Bibb:

The United States Marshals Service is actively supporting a new United States Courthouse in Springfield, Massachusetts -- due to egregious safety and security conditions inconsistent with safe court proceedings in the current Springfield Federal Office Building and Courthouse.

Intelligence available to the Marshals Service indicates, the City of Springfield is confronted with gang-related crime that has threatened to overcome the local resources. In addition to federal and state gang task forces, the Governor recently dispatched uniformed State Troopers to the city streets to assist the Springfield Police Department in dealing with the explosive gang situation. At many law enforcement meetings, Springfield is targeted as having the worst organized gang problems in Massachusetts. The State District Attorney has reported to the state legislature that witness intimidation is a daily occurrence in the Springfield State Courts. As federal prosecutive priorities focus on gang activities, similar threats can be expected in the less secure federal court in Springfield.

The Springfield business district immediately adjacent to the federal building housing the courts has evolved into a series of barroom and seedy establishments frequented by vagrants and criminal elements. The but tong has inadequate security for this location generally and specifically for high security court proceedings. Only costly extensive and intensive deployments of manpower con bring a measure of perimeter security to this very vulnerable building .

Neither the United States Marshals Service nor the GSA Federal Protective Service has the manpower or the funding to increase manpower to We appropriate security level needed. The number of criminal trials in thin courthouse have escalated due to the increase in crime in the area and the increase in members of the federal judiciary. In order to keep pace with the alarming rise in crime a U.S. Marshals Service review was conducted recently.

The U.S. Marshals Service Headquarters Chief of Space Management and Senior Architect performed an initial prisoner movement and security review of this facility on October 11, 1994, due to problems associated with Prisoner movement and security.

The results of this site review by my staff are alarming. The following are just a few of the security deficiencies and problems that exist with securing this facility:

The Federal Building in Springfield, that also houses the Courts is a bifurcated largely glass structure - with a open atrium in the middle;

The building has multiple unsecured entrances and was not designed to restrict public movement. Over twenty federal organizations are housed in this facility, many requiring unrestricted and special handicapped access to the public; such as the Veterans Administration clinic, Social Security, Internal Revenue Service, etc.;

The facility does not have a secure van sallyport that will accommodate our vans or mini bus for loading and unloading of prisoners, due to the building settling during construction 13 years ago;

There are no secure prisoner corridors on the upper floors of this federal building leading to the Courtrooms. Dangerous prisoners are moved in public corridors in the presence of family, friends, witnesses, court personnel, and other federal tenants;

There are inadequate secure prisoner/attorney interview rooms;

There are no courtroom holding cells for each courtroom. Prisoners must be transported to the central cellblock at every recess or break in court proceedings, through public or judiciary corridors;

The courthouse: does not have dedicated prisoner elevators or secure circulation systems;

The U.S. Marshals central cellblock has inadequate prisoner detention cells. The prisoner traffic in these facilities indicates the need for at least an additional 3 to 5 cells. The present cellblock configuration creates a dangerous situation that does not even allow for the proper segregation of prisoners -- male, female, juvenile, isolation, multi-defendant, which is critical given the increased gang activity in this regional area;

The public counters to separate U.S. Marshals staff from the general public or possible intruders are inadequate and not bullet resistant.

The Current U.S. Marshals office, support and cellblock space, at this location is seriously deficient by at least 4-5,000 square feet with no workable contiguous space available for expansion.

The above are just a few of the major security concerns that we have for this facility. After completion of this physical review, the Senior Architect prepared three concept drawings to determine if this facility could be reconfigured to meet the needs of the Judiciary and the U.S. Marshals. After review of these concept drawings, we determined that prisoner movement problems could not be corrected to current standards, a van sallyport could not be added for secure movement of prisoners, and separate circulation systems could not be incorporated to prevent prisoners, the public and Judges from using the same corridors. We further determined that adding prisoner elevators with secured vestibules and corridors, to ensure the safe and secure movement of the U.S. Marshals prisoners from the cellblock to the Courtrooms, would be literally impossible unless the General Services Administration was willing to fund millions of dollars to install these elevators ire the existing facility.

This review determined that the current Springfield federal building should not house the federal courts and that a courthouse that will meet the safety and security needs of the public, Judiciary and U.S. Marshals should be constructed. We strongly encourage you to support a prospectus and fund a new United States Courthouse facility in Springfield, Massachusetts. The longer the public, Judiciary, U.S. Marshals Service, and other building tenants continue to operate under these conditions, the greater the continued risk for incident and loss at life at this location.

If your staff needs additional information from the U.S. Marshals Service, please have them contact Dave Barnes, Chief, Space Management on (703) 603-7614.

Sincerely,

Wendell C. Shingler, Chief
Administrative Services Division


ATTACHMENT D

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS
1560 MAIN STREET
SPRINGFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS 01103
CHAMBERS OF MICHAEL A. PONSOR
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
April 3, 1997

P. Gerald Thacker
Assistant Director
Administrative Office of the U. S. Courts
One Columbus Circle, N.E., Suite 7-334
Washington, DC 20544

Dear Jerry:

I'm not sure I have previously reported to you an ominous incident that occurred at the Springfield courthouse some time during the first week of January.

Upon return from the New Years holiday, I found what appeared to be two large bullet holes in two of the windows in my courtroom. A later investigation suggested that the holes may have been caused by a pellet gun, or sling shot, or possibly some sort of firearm. Fortunately, no one was in the courtroom at the time the incident occurred.

This is the second time that my courtroom windows have suffered damages as a result of something being fired or thrown from an adjacent parking garage.

The incident highlights the very onerous security deficiencies at the Springfield courthouse. These have already been noted in detail by the U.S. Marshal's Service. With upcoming high profile gang trials, the security deficits here are becoming a matter of increasing concern.

I happened to be speaking to Doug Woodlock the other day and he suggested that I write this letter to you for consideration in connection filth the ongoing discussions of courthouse building projects.

Please call if you have any questions.

Best regards,

Michael A. Ponsor
U.S. District Judge