20 April 2011 by Tim Patrick
Let me first furnish some personal background information. I worked in the Fire and Life Safety industry for over twenty-five years. I served under the former State Fire Marshal, Mr. V. J. Bella on the Fire Safety committee that established the architectural review policies and fees as a representative for an International firm. My observations and accounting can be easily proven by Court records for any agency that wishes to investigate my observations.
On the 14th of April 20111 at 8:00 a.m., I had been summoned to appear in court for arraignment. I had been issued a Louisiana Uniform Traffic Ticket and Complaint, since the issuing officer believed that I committed a NON-MOVING offense that endangered the PUBLIC SAFETY. Some examples of a NON-MOVING violation would be not wearing a seat belt, tail light out, turning signal not working expired brake tag or license plate – all of them a truly ghastly offense to be sure.
It is most important as you read this letter that you keep in mind that the Public Servant issuing the NON-MOVING violation was concerned about PUBLIC SAFETY – supposedly, including mine.
Upon my timely arrival at the 7th Ward Courthouse in downtown Hammond, I was herded with the rest of the captive and curt-ordered human cattle into a public area measuring 28 feet by 28 feet with eight (8) benches in the middle of this area that were approximately eighteen feet (18) long. It resembled a typical courthouse architectural design. In this limited area sat and stood ONE HUNDRED and NINETY-SIX (196).
You read that right – ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY-SIX people in a 28 foot by 28 foot area for general public occupancy. You do not have to be educated or intelligent to realize that this large herd of human cattle in such a small space was a clear and purposeful violation of the Local, State, and Federal Life Safety Fire Codes. All that is required is common sense and common decency to understand that every citizen court-ordered in that room were having their life and safety compromised – severely and purposely compromised. There were an additional twelve people in a glass enclosed area built to accommodate twelve people and approximately 8-10 people in the restricted desk and Judge’s bench area. But in the public area – 28 ft. by 28 ft. – there were 196 people.
According to the 2009-2010 Life Safety Code in the Occupant Section 13.1.7 and Life Safety Code 220.127.116.11.1 the following should apply – Standing Area for one person is five (5) square feet; Seating space for the bench area is eighteen (18) inches per person. Therefore with an eighteen foot bench, each bench can accommodate an occupancy of 12 for each bench and with eight benches that would yield a maximum seating occupancy of only 96 people. With a 5 foot by 28 foot standing aisle area on each side of the bench area for a total of 280 square feet yielding a projected available legal occupancy of the standing area (280 divided by 5) equaling fifty-six (56) people. The seating occupancy of 96 combined with the standing occupancy of 56 yields a total approximate MAXIMUM occupancy of 152.
Occupancy of 152 – there was 196 present and accounted for in that tiny but dangerous area – PUBLIC SAFETY? – I wasn’t feeling too safe.
The Seventh Ward Court and its’ leadership violated the Life Safety Code, not one time – but forty-four (44) times. The Seventh Ward Court and its’ leadership were content to allow the PUBLIC SAFETY to be purposely ignored for the chattel cattle at their mercy.
The Lawful Occupancy was exceeded by approximately thirty percent (30%).
And if you think that’s bad – it gets worse. There were several older ladies and gentlemen in that area that were obviously handicapped, at least two with canes that were forced to stand. Many others in the room may have handicaps that are not easily visible but are not conducive to standing for several hours in close quarters. I personally have a heart condition having had open heart surgery, several stents and two heart attacks in the last fifteen (15) years. I personally used my nitro glycerin twice and witnessed an elderly lady take nitro at least once. Absolutely No Handicap accommodations were present or available. Apparently, the leadership of the Seventh Ward Court and the City of Hammond maintain a consistently callous attitude for the Handicapped. It is very obvious that the Seventh Ward Court have a pre-conceived, purposeful, and deliberate disregard for the Public Safety and life of the common citizen – their chattel cattle.
If you think the above is bad, in the words of my old friend, Justin Wilson, “it gets some more worser”. As they were calling out the names of all those summoned for a guilty or not guilty plea, I attempted to keep count of those who had been summoned but failed to appear in Court for that day. Another approximately 546, that’s right – 546 – failed to appear after being summoned. Had they appeared for their assigned Court date, there would have been 742 citizens (the 7th Ward’s chattel cattle) in a 28 foot by 28 foot area.
Think about that – a possibility of 742 bodies in a 28 foot by 28 foot area – that would allow approximately 1.05 square foot person – that’s about 151 square inches.
Now, you will hear the usual tired excuses – not enough space, too many cases, and not enough judges – pitiful excuses all. None of those excuses are acceptable. Alphabetical platoon system, longer work hours, active coordination with other agencies, leasing a larger facility are just a very few of the solutions to protect the life safety of tax-paying citizens and insure the well-being of the Handicapped.
I do not know the words of their Oaths of Office that they mumbled at the acceptance of their positions. If this is the way they routinely conduct their business – they have severely violated their oath of office and should resign.
They need to immediately cease and desist their “business as usual” until they can provide a safe environment for those citizens summoned to appear in Court with adequate accommodation for the handicapped. While we may be handicapped, we are still valuable human beings to someone. The Handicapped are someone’s daughter, son, grandparent, parent, granddaughter or grandson.
In the short term, for their wanton and obvious violation of the Life Safety Codes, they should waive all fines and court costs for those in attendance on 14 April 2011 whether they plead guilty or not guilty. After all, they endangered their lives by placing them in an area that compromised their Life Safety.
The Seventh Ward Court leaders need to rescind any warrants for those who failed to appear since legally they would not have had the space in their Courtroom to fit 742 people and reschedule a “safe” Court date. Only so many “chattel cattle” can fit in a 28 foot by 28 foot area. And those who did not appear have a legitimate reason for doing so. Perhaps they did not wish to place themselves in a compromising Life Safety situation.
Every legislator will receive a copy of this letter along with the State Fire Marshall’s office. A bill needs to be introduced to require a determination of occupancy by the State Fire Marshal’s Office of each Courtroom in this State. A large prominently displayed placard listing the maximum occupancy should be placed at the entrance to each Courtroom with an emergency number for citizens to contact if that limit is not observed. Any call should be responded to immediately. The law should also require a certain percentage of the seating to be reserved for the Handicapped. The Tangipahoa Parish Council could take this up immediately and have it done in a short period of time within our Parish.
This letter will be sent to many other public officials and news outlets that hopefully will address the importance of protecting the tax-paying public and insure the Life Safety of those they are to supposedly serve.
And yes, the author of this letter understands that by writing this letter, I am probably endangering the livelihood, safety and freedom of myself and my family. Political, personal, civil and even criminal persecution of the common outspoken citizen seems to be the norm for our “elite” elected and appointed officials in this parish. After all, Tangipahoa is the “Chicago” of Louisiana. But folks, if we do not stand up to the corrupt and incompetent elected/appointed public officials, this great country will fast become a mere shadow of its’ former self. I am fully aware and understand that there will be attempts to punish me for raising my head above the crowd and daring to insist on fair, equal and safe treatment for all.
In closing – it would not have taken a fire to kill or injure someone trying to escape from that small area. A false alarm could have triggered a stampede for the exits that would have seriously injured some and may have even resulted in a death. I reported to the Police Officer on duty that the smoke detector in the Men’s Room was sending out a “trouble signal” – but no action was taken. A dirty smoke detector can trigger a false alarm. Now, I’m not real smart like those attorneys and Judge that was in Court that day, so forgive me for my ignorance and naiveté. I’m just a poor old stupid Cajun boy blessed with an Irish license plate.