Berrien Co. judge details shooting from inside courthouse

Officers are comforted outside of the Berrien County Courthouse after two bailiffs were fatally shot by an inmate on July 11, 2016.

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. (WOOD) — As court cases go, Judge Charles LaSata says Larry Gordon’s appearance in his Berrien County courtroom Monday was expected to be routine.

The judge said Gordon’s hearing was for a misdemeanor case.

Berrien County Sheriff's Office Larry Gordon mugshot 071116
An undated mug shot of Larry Gordon. (Berrien County Sheriff’s Office)

“The shooter’s case was actually being dismissed. He was going to be transported back to the jail to come back later in the week for some more serious felony charges,” LaSata said.

He said Gordon was in handcuffs as he was led into a secured room next to the courtroom on the third floor of the court house. Moments later, the judge heard a scuffle and yelling.

My bailiff Ron Kienzle immediately responded, ran across the courtroom, as going through the door, began to draw his weapon when we heard the shots,” LaSata recollected.

Berrien County bailiffs killed
Undated courtesy photos of Joseph Zangaro (left) and Ronald Kienzle (right) who were killed at the Berrien County Courthouse on July 11, 2016. (Courtesy Berrien County Administration)

The judge followed protocol, hitting the panic button. He hustled his court personnel into his chambers and locked the doors.

“Actually, the shooter was trying to get into my chambers when they ultimately subdued him. I could hear him kicking in my door. I think he was just trying to get out of the building; (I) don’t think he knew where I was with my court staff,” said the judge.

Moments later, LaSata heard a shot. Gordon was dead.

While the shooting has led many to question court security and procedures, LaSata dismisses any second-guessing.

“We have to recognize in life that sometimes tragedies occur. It’s no one’s fault,” he said. “It’s fate. It just happens.”

The judge was among hundreds of people who filled St. Joseph Tuesday afternoon to march in unity for the two fallen court officers.

In the sweltering heat they marched from the scene of the violent tragedy to the police memorial at Lake Bluff Park.

Marchers came together as family, friends and community united in support of the shooting victims.

“I think the divide is not as divided as we think. I think we all cherish and love law enforcement.” said Joseph Taylor, who joined the march.

“I hope they learn that we all need to support our police officers, the fire department… They’re out there to protect us,” said Cindy Tolladay, who brought her grandchildren to the event.

St. Joseph unity march
People filled the streets of St. Joseph Tuesday for a unity march for the courthouse shooting victims. (July 12, 2016)

A large number of law enforcement officers also participated in the procession, which comes during one of the most historically difficult times for those who wear a badge.

“It means a lot, with all the current situations going on,” said Benton Harbor officer Joel Deenik, who also marched. “As police officers, we take a lot of abuse. A show of support like this is really awesome.”

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