Updated 6:20 p.m.
A Justice Department report released today found continued deficiencies in the protection of federal judges and prosecutors even as threats and the like targeting the judiciary and law enforcement increased substantially in recent years.
The report comes amid news that a court security officer was killed and a deputy U.S. marshal was wounded today in a shooting at the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas. The shooter reportedly died shortly after being taken into custody.
The report, issued Jan. 4 by the Office of the Inspector General, found that judges and prosecutors do not consistently and promptly report threats, hindering the ability of the U.S. Marshals Service to investigate and protect. The report released to the public is a redacted version of the full 110-page report sent to Congress. (Click here for the redacted report.)
OIG investigators, who interviewed and surveyed federal judges and prosecutors, said as many as 25% of all threats were not reported to law enforcement. In about 25% of the threats reported in 2007 and 2008, two or more days lapsed between when the threat was made and when it was reported.
Even when threats are reported, the Marshals Service “does not consistently provide an appropriate response to the risk level posed by the threat,” according to the OIG report. The report also questioned the lack of coordination among the Marshals Service, U.S. attorneys’ offices and the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.
No federal judges or prosecutors were killed or seriously injured during the reporting period. But there was a dramatic rise in threats and inappropriate communications toward judges and prosecutors—from nearly 600 in 2003 to 5,744 in 2008.
“[W]e found critical deficiencies in the Department’s threat response program,” DOJ Inspector General Glenn Fine said in a statement. “We believe the Department must promptly address these deficiencies to ensure the safety of federal judges, U.S. Attorneys, AUSAs, and other federal court officials.”
The OIG report said that the Marshals Service does not consistently track threat referrals to the FBI. Marshals Service policy requires the agency to notify the FBI when a threat against a judge or prosecutor is reported. Reports on 40% of the threats made known to the Marshals Service in 2007 and 2008 contained no information regarding FBI notification.
“The U.S. Marshals Service fully cooperated with the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General as it prepared its report on judicial security,” Marshals Service spokesman Jeff Carter said in a statement. “We have made great strides over the past few years in our judicial security mission, and as the U.S. Marshals Service believes there is always room to perfect the process, we will carry out the report’s recommendations with that goal in mind.”
The report also found that coordination between the Marshals Service and the FBI is inconsistent across the country. An FBI spokesman, Paul Bresson, said this afternoon that the FBI looks forward to working with the Marshals Service to enhance coordination efforts.
OIG investigators said a review of 26 threat cases showed that the Marshals Service did not record the risk level ratings in the agency’s database. In only one case in the sample did the target of the threat receive all four protective measures called for by Marshals Service protocol, according to the report.
The OIG report made 14 recommendations. These include improving the guidance given to judges and prosecutors on the need for prompt reporting of threats, and ensuring better coordination between investigative agencies.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. issued the following statement about the shooting in Las Vegas:
“The shooting in Las Vegas this morning is a tragic reminder of the risks taken by law enforcement officers every day to keep us safe. These men and women put their lives on the line to protect judges, witnesses, and others in the federal court system, and there is no doubt that the actions of these brave public servants saved innocent lives today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Stanley Cooper, who made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as with the Deputy U.S. Marshal who was injured in the line of duty. Their valiant actions and their service to our nation will not be forgotten.”