Vagrants bedding down in court buildings amid security cutbacks

by | Apr 27, 2015 | Press, Updates


The Queens Supreme courthouse bathroom in which a homeless man was recently found preparing to sleep overnight.
Photo: Dennis Clark/New York Post

Odor in the court!

Cutbacks in security at city court buildings are leaving the halls of justice open to smelly vagrants looking for a place to crash, The Post has learned.

In the latest incident, janitors at the Queens Supreme courthouse surprised a scraggly bum in a ragged coat getting ready to spend the night inside a fourth-floor men’s room around 6 p.m. Monday.

“They smelled a strong odor from the bathroom and they went in,” said Patrick Cullen, president of the state Supreme Court Officers Association.

The would-be courthouse camper was found settling down inside a stall with several large bags, a sleeping mat and a bag of food.

“It looked like he had done it before,” Cullen said.

“He didn’t say much. He just said he would leave the building when asked.”

Recent budget cuts eliminated evening security sweeps by court officers, who now leave the courthouse at the end of the work day — even if there are still judges and clerks burning the midnight oil.

“Sweeps may be done prior to 5 p.m., but the public and employees are still in facilities well past that time in all Supreme Courts on a very regular basis, if not every single day,” Cullen said.

“It’s a matter of time before something catastrophic happens.”

In an especially disturbing twist to Monday’s rank discovery, a court officer also spotted a homeless woman hanging around near a door reserved for judges as he left the courthouse.

The woman was “seemingly waiting to be let in by the man found in the bathroom, if you connect the dots,” Cullen said.

Similar incidents have also occurred at the Manhattan Supreme courthouse, where a high-ranking court officer had to roust a homeless man who was loitering outside a third-floor men’s room earlier this year.

The officer told The Post he didn’t have any backup and called a colleague to watch the building’s closed-circuit video system to ensure his safety while confronting the tramp.

A courthouse janitor also recalled an incident about six months ago, when a mentally ill woman who got called for jury duty was found hanging out in the juror assembly room more than an hour after everyone else went home.

Staffers managed to call her dad and have him pick her up, the janitor said.

Court-goers were outraged at how the security cuts were putting a new spin on the traditional “Inns of Court.”

Queens juror Miriam Rosin, 71, of Kew Gardens, called the“The irony is we’re scrutinized so tightly at the metal detectors,” she said.

“You have to take everything out of your pockets, take stuff out of your bag. But meanwhile a homeless man manages to get inside and nearly spend the night in the bathroom.”

“It makes you think: if he could hide in the bathroom, anybody could, she added.

Liza Marie Powell, 42, of Bayside, who was at the Queens courthouse to file papers for her divorce, said she’d seen “bag ladies in the lobby” and “people on benches on the third floor asking for money.”

“I absolutely detest coming here. It’s getting worse and worse and worse,” she said.

Lawyer Emmanuella Agwu, 54, said she felt bad for bum who tried to bed down in the bathroom, “but he really belongs in shelter.”

“I’m sure he did it before,” she said.

“It’s a security breach.”

A spokesman for the state court system said that “not every incident in the courthouse should be an agenda item for Mr. Cullen,” the union leader.

“Security in our courthouses is a priority, however one must be mindful that budget cuts over the years have forced us to reduce to on all levels,” spokesman David Bookstaver said.

“We have to live within our budget.”