UPDATE: The Journal & Courier reported today (June 11, 2017) that the prosecutors have moved out of the courthouse; however, according to courthouse insiders there are no plans to unlock the fourth floor restrooms. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for courthouse patrons to become angry and “bellicose” about the controversial decision to lock the public out of the fourth floor restrooms.
Apparently, Tippecanoe County Prosecutors don’t like sharing restroom facilities with the citizen rabble. According to courthouse insiders, the fourth floor restrooms at the courthouse have been closed to the public at the request of officials in the prosecutor’s office.
The reason reportedly given by the prosecutors for the restroom discrimination was that they do not wish to use the same facilities as criminal defendants due to safety concerns. This argument does not seem valid to some who say prosecutors routinely use restrooms on other floors where most of the criminal trials take place for their own personal convenience.
“There should not be a caste system within the courthouse,” said Jon Held, a former Fairfield Township elected official. “It smacks of elitism, not to mention it is outright discrimination.”
The prosecutor’s office shares the floor with Superior Court 3, also known as Children’s Court, one of the busiest courtrooms at the courthouse. This court oversees cases involving the welfare of children, and it’s not uncommon for children, parents, social workers, and child advocates to line the halls waiting to be heard inside the busy courtroom. A night court and an appointed magistrate have been added to help with the burdensome caseload.
Due to the nature of the court, there is sometimes a long wait; therefore, non-employees are forced to use the only working elevator, or climb the long staircase, to access restrooms located on the first and third floors of the building. Children are routinely in court, and parents understand the importance of having a restroom nearby for emergencies.
“I think it’s a smack in the face to the many volunteers who give so much time and effort to the community,” commented one citizen, who wasn’t buying into the reasoning for the closing of the restrooms. “If prosecutors don’t want to pee with the rest of us, maybe they should place a port-a-potty in their office suite.”
Others also suspect there is more to the policy than prosecutor safety. Many non-employees, such as child welfare workers, child advocates, and witnesses have been let into the locked restrooms by courthouse employees in cases of emergencies, which reportedly prompted complaints to be made by prosecutor staff.
“To complain about a volunteer using the restroom is just so mean-spirited,” continued Held. “The false pretense is insulting, and it is arrogant of them to think they are too special to use a public restroom,” continued Held.
Held, who grew up with a severely disabled sister, is concerned that the county may not be in compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
“To eliminate a public restroom is a burden to disabled citizens, especially in a busy facility that has a single elevator in use,” said Held. “I think the county needs an ADA compliance check.”
Others say the sneakiness of it all is suspicious, and cited the fact that there was not a public notice or discussion before the closure of the restrooms.
Held believes it is time for citizens to take action by contacting the county commissioners as well as state and federal officials. You can reach the Tippecanoe County Commissioners by phone or email. Citizens are also welcome to attend Commissioner meetings that are held the first and third Mondays each month at 10:00 a.m. in the County Office building. Public comments are welcome.