Outage Prompts Look Into Justice Center's Safety System

Judge Says She's 'Appalled' At Center's Safety Pla

CLEVELAND - A Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court judge said she's appalled at the Justice Center's safety plan and is requesting a fire investigation, according to Live On Five Investigator Jodi Brooks.

Inside the Justice Center, on the 23rd floor, Judge Eileen Gallagher was presiding over a capital murder case when the lights went out Thursday. The exit signs did not illuminate, and the stairwells were pitch black.

"It was a horrible situation," she said. "No one seemed to be in control."

By a single lit candle, Gallagher led the 40 people in her courtroom -- two of them jail inmates -- down the stairs.

On Monday, Gallagher sent a letter to the Cleveland fire chief, stating she "was appalled" with the emergency situation and was requesting "a full and immediate investigation."

County administrators said they're taking action.

"My response is (that) we will certainly take into consideration their concerns," said Dave Reines, a Cuyahoga County administrator. "We will work with them to ensure the buildings are safe in event we have a similar occurrence in the future."

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a safety and evacuation plan has been in the works at the Justice Center. So why didn't it work on Thursday?

"This was in the grid, but we hadn't done it yet, and some people thought we had," said presiding Judge Richard McMonagle.

In fact, the day before the blackout, stairwell lighting was being discussed. Administrators tested light sticks but decided they were not adequate.

But Gallagher said that does not comfort her. She maintains the building is not safe.

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