THOMASVILLE — Do not even think about taking a cell phone into the Thomas County Courthouse if you are courtroom-bound for any reason.

Thomas County Sheriff Carlton Powell said he banned the phones for several reasons.

Cell phones can be used to activate bombs, and they take photographs that could result in a verdict being reversed by a higher court, the sheriff explained.

When someone headed for a courtroom enters the courthouse through the sole entrance, they pass through a portal in which they are scanned mechanically for weapons.

At that point, Thomas County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Charles Haire instructs those with cell phones to leave them in their vehicles.

Eventually, Powell said, a secure place will be established for those who might have been dropped off at the courthouse — and others — to leave their phones while in a courtroom.

Unless a judge grants permission, cameras are banned in courtrooms. Powell said someone with a camera-equipped cell phone could take an unauthorized courtroom photo of a witness, and a verdict could be overturned based on the picture taken illegally.

Specifically, he said, someone might photograph a victimized child testifying during a rape or child-molestation trial.

“If cameras are forbidden, cameras are forbidden,” the sheriff explained. “Video has gotten to be a big issue.”

Regardless of whether a cell phone is equipped to take photographs, the sanctity of the court is disturbed when a cell phone rings, Powell added.

The phones also are banned from any function conducted in a courtroom, such as Thomas County Commission meetings.

“When something is going on in the courtroom, we don’t allow it,” Powell said. “They can be used for too many different things.”

“We’ve had very little objection to it,” Haire said about the ruling.

Sometimes someone parks a considerable distance from the courthouse or is dropped off. Their cell phones are tagged with their names and kept at the entrance checkpoint.

Powell said the ruling also will be enforced in the Jail-Justice Center courtroom.

Haire said it has not happened, but anyone who refuses to comply with the ruling will have to leave the courthouse. If they refuse to leave, law enforcement officers will escort the individual from courthouse property.

Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 220.

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