Court safety issues re-emerge

Rosie
Rosie Gillingham
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Man allegedly found with knife

Issues of safety have resurfaced at provincial court in St. John's after a second person was allegedly caught on the premises with a knife.

Francis Joel Laroche was arrested Tuesday after he reportedly threatened a sheriff's officer outside Courtroom No. 7. When he was taken into custody and searched, the guards discovered a knife with a four-inch blade in his pocket.

Francis Laroche Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

Issues of safety have resurfaced at provincial court in St. John's after a second person was allegedly caught on the premises with a knife.

Francis Joel Laroche was arrested Tuesday after he reportedly threatened a sheriff's officer outside Courtroom No. 7. When he was taken into custody and searched, the guards discovered a knife with a four-inch blade in his pocket.

Laroche, 44, had been at court to support his girlfriend, Chastity Willingham, who is in jail facing similar charges. She allegedly assaulted a sheriff's officer last week outside the same courtroom and was later found to have had a small pocketknife on her keychain.

According to reports, just before Willingham was escorted out of court Tuesday, Laroche intentionally disconnected one of the retractable tape barriers, which sheriff's officers customarily put in place to cordon off the area as prisoners are led in and out of court.

Francis Joel Laroche, 44, appeared in provincial court in St. John's Wednesday, a day after he was arrested for allegedly having a knife in court. - Photo by Rosie Gillingham/The Telegram

The force Laroche used to detach the barrier caused the tape's wall base to partially come off its hinges.

Laroche then allegedly had words with one of the sheriff's officers and told him he would "get him outside" after court.

The knife was allegedly found on Laroche during a routine frisk in the holding cells.

Word of the incident quickly spread around court, heightening worries for those who work there.

"We're walking targets," one sheriff's officer told The Telegram Wednesday. "It's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

"And the answer is not to add more sheriff's officers. If we can't check people coming in and out of court, it's useless. People can come in with whatever (weapon) they want."

Laroche - who is originally from Toronto, but whose address is listed on court documents as Her Majesty's Penitentiary - was escorted into court Wednesday in handcuffs and charged with unlawfully possessing a knife, intimidating a sheriff's officer and breaching a Toronto court-ordered condition to stay at least 200 metres away from Willingham.

He was taken back to jail and is due back in court Nov. 25.

Tuesday's incident happened just three months after Laroche was released from Springhill Federal Correctional Institution in Nova Scotia, where he had been serving a four-year sentence for a 2006 armed robbery in St. John's.

He was released on parole in August after serving about three years. As a result of Tuesday's incident at court, Laroche's parole has been suspended.

The armed robbery happened in April 2006. Laroche used a 3.57 Magnum to hold up a Needs Convenience store - formerly the Fountain Spray - on Military Road. He was sentenced in July of that year.

According to the facts of that case, Laroche casually walked into the store, showed the gun to the lone female clerk and demanded all the cash in the register. He got away with $400, but was caught on store security cameras.

His criminal record, which dates back in this province to 2005, also includes convictions for uttering threats, theft and breaching probation.

When contacted by The Telegram following Laroche's most recent charges, Sheldon Steeves - provincial president of the Canadian Crown Attorneys Association - said there's concern about security at court.

He said "measures should be taken," such as installing metal detectors at court entrances.

rgillingham@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Springhill Federal Correctional Institution, Canadian Crown Attorneys Association

Geographic location: St. John's, Toronto, Nova Scotia Military Road

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