Protecting Justice Sotomayor on campus

photo by Lacey Jacoby

By John Rogers /// Staff Writer

On March 7, Ben Small (’14) was walking past Frank Manor House at Lewis & Clark College when he saw “a group of men and women dressed in flashy suits.” He could see that they had “civilian-looking cars,” but upon closer inspection, noticed hidden lights in the windshields.

“As I walked by, the group disbanded, some of the agents removed their dark sunglasses to cast glances around their vehicles. Others removed their jackets revealing multiple firearms and human restraint devices.”

Unbeknownst to Small or any other passerby, the mysterious visitors were traveling U.S Marshals—along with their detection dogs—tasked with assessing the security needs for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s on-campus talk on Wednesday, March 12. Small had witnessed one of the two or three meetings in which traveling and local US Marshals had met with Campus Safety leading up to event.

Back in Washington, D.C., Sotomayor’s security detail and the security for the eight other justices are renowned for being modest in comparison to equivalently important political figures. A New York Times article written in 2012 stated that the “nine justices often slip around Washington like ordinary citizens, causing barely a pause at stop signs, parties, supermarkets and houses of worship.”

However, nothing about Sotomayor’s visit to LC was modest. Four separate agencies—the Portland Police Bureau, G4S (a private security contractor), the U.S Marshals Service and Lewis & Clark’s Campus Safety—were tasked with providing security for her visit.

Campus Safety Director Timothy O’Dwyer said that security coordination began long before Sotomayor’s visit. The traveling security team, led by a senior inspector, made contact with Campus Security and requested that Campus Safety Officer Julie Couch act as the office’s liaison to the security team based on her performance when Chief Justice John Roberts visited campus last year.

“Officer Couch met with members of the traveling and local US Marshals Service contingent on two or three occasions leading up to the event, visiting campus sites and making determinations about security needs,” O’Dwyer said. The Marshals also asked for the names of all those who would interact with the Justice.

The Portland Police Bureau also participated in coordination efforts, as is custom when federal dignitaries enter their jurisdiction. “For events such as the Justice Sotomayor visit, the Marshals Service works closely with PPB officers trained in federal dignitary protection, and they are also assigned to the security team.”

At roughly 11:30 a.m. on March 12, a three-vehicle caravan carrying Justice Sotomayor and her entourage pulled out of the campus parking lot and left. To most, her departure concluded her highly anticipated one-hour talk. To Campus Safety and the other agencies involved in the Justice’s protection, it was the successful end to weeks of coordination and planning. “The protection afforded Justice Sotomayor was a seamless collaboration” from all those involved, O’Dwyer said.

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