Order bans cameras from Washington courthouse

April 9, 2014
A view of the Washington County Courthouse - Observer-Reporter Order a Print

In preparation for an upcoming homicide hearing, the Washington County Court officials are increasing security and expanding the ban on the use of the cameras throughout the courthouse.

President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said an order she issued Wednesday simply clarifies additional locations within the courthouse where cameras cannot be used, and that it was an extension of a prior order issued in 2006.

The recent order looks to reduce distractions near courtroom and chamber entrances and to allow unobstructed access between chambers and courtrooms, court documents show.

As a result, cameras will no longer be permitted on the second and third floors of the courthouse; near the vicinity of the entrances to courtrooms 5 and 6 or at the entrances to the chambers of those courtrooms; and on the first floor of the Family Court Center or in the north corridor of the center’s second floor.

The order also states that communications cannot be sent by telephone, radio or advanced communication technology from any hearing room or courtroom.

Prior to the order, phone calls were not permitted in the courtrooms and people were not allowed to take videos or photographs inside the courtrooms.

O’Dell Seneca said copies of the new regulation will be passed out by members of the Washington County sheriff’s office. A security meeting was held Wednesday to review existing policies and to ensure proper security would be in place for an April 16 preliminary hearing for Anthian Goehring, 28, Douglas Cochran Jr., 18, Malik Thomas, 20, and Richard White, 18, all of Washington, who are accused of the shooting death of 10-year-old Ta’Niyah Thomas last week, O’Dell Seneca said.

Thomas was killed when she attempted to get to her mother’s bedroom in their 450 W. Chestnut St. home after hearing gunfire.

Goehring, Cochran, Thomas and White have been charged with criminal homicide, robbery, theft and burglary. Goehring is also charged with discharge of a firearm into an occupied structure, person not to possess a firearm and reckless endangerment. Cochran also was charged with reckless endangerment.

All four men remain in Washington County jail without bond.

Although central court hearings are normally held in the Family Court Center, O’Dell Seneca said the hearing will be held in the main courthouse to ensure that everyone goes through the metal detectors.

District Attorney Gene Vittone said the order was not in violation of the Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedures. Vittone was unsure how the order will be administered.

“Everybody’s got a camera on their phone,” Vittone said. “So I’m not sure how that will impact things.”

Francesca Sacco joined the Observer-Reporter as a staff writer in November 2013, and covers the Washington County Courthouse and education. Prior to working with the Observer-Reporter, Francesca was a staff writer with a Gannett paper in Ohio. She graduated from Point Park University with a dual bachelor’s degree in print and broadcast journalism.

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