By Becky Jane Newbold,
A former employee of the Circuit Court Clerk’s office was the target of a shooting Friday that led to an evacuation and a serious look at security for Lewis County Court House.
Friday morning at approximately 9 a.m. a man with a gun entered the court house via the elevator to confront his wife, Joanna Owen.
Clerk Barbara Hinson told the Lewis County Herald she told Mrs. Owen that her husband, Johnny Owen, was there to see her. The couple went to an empty, small courtroom to talk and within a few minutes employees of the office heard loud voices.
According to a police report, Hinson saw Joanna holding Johnny’s arm, saying “Don’t do it Johnny, don’t do it up here,” and alerted security. Deputies Brent Staggs and Art Powell stepped into the room at which time the gun was pointed toward the officers.
Approximately 20 people were next door in General Sessions Court where TWRA officer Clint Newton, aware of the situation, began clearing the room. General Sessions Judge Mike Hinson activated an alarm to alert law enforcement. Evacuation of the offices of the courthouse also began right away.
Sheriff Dwayne Kilpatrick said he was turning into the courthouse parking lot when the alarm sounded and he immediately responded. City Police Chief Sam Livingston and Officer Earl Taylor were also on the scene within minutes.
As the struggle continued, Joanna reportedly pushed the gun away from officers at which time it discharged into the south east wall, just feet from the General Sessions court wall. Chief Livingston reported the bullet, fortunately, did not penetrate the wall.
A door connecting the two courtrooms was accessed by Sheriff Kilpatrick, Officer Barry Carroll and Officer Taylor who joined security in urging, “Johnny, you don’t want to do this, put the gun down,” the report reads.
Johnny told law enforcement to “just kill him” and refused to release the Glock 23 handgun.
A diagnosis of terminal cancer had been reportedly given to Johnny Owen by doctors. An interview by police with his son and daughter-in-law indicated Johnny and Joanna were going through divorce proceedings. Paranoia and depression were reported especially after Joanna moved in with a boyfriend.
Joanna finally told Johnny “if he would put the gun down, she would go back home with him,” law enforcement documents stated. Sheriff Kilpatrick noted Owen made eye contact with him and Joanna, then gave her the gun and was taken into custody.
Sheriff Kilpatrick reported the incident as workplace domestic violence.
“Domestic violence can happen in any workplace environment at anytime,” Judge Hinson said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Johnny Owen was not booked at Lewis County Jail but was transported for medical evaluation.
Owen was able to enter the court house through an elevator on the north side of the courthouse from the street. While there were security guards in place at the doors to the court room, no one was monitoring that entrance.
The historic building has four entrances from the street. Following the arrest of Owen, all traffic was directed through the east door with a additional deputy stationed on the north side at the elevator entrance with all other entrances closed.
“I was at a judicial conference in Knoxville when I received a text regarding the incident. Law enforcement personnel and security did a good job keeping the situation calm,” Circuit Judge Jim Martin stated.
He and the sheriff met to discuss security. “New measures are going to go a long way in keeping the courthouse secure.”
Current policy allows legal handgun permit holders to have weapon inside the building, but not in the courtroom when court is in session. Judge Martin recommended no firearms be allowed in the building but conceded the sheriff is ultimately responsible for courthouse security.
“My personal view is inside a public facility firearms present security issues our deputies don’t need to be addressing.”
Joanna Owen was relieved of her duties Friday morning, Circuit Clerk Hinson confirmed. “This has been going on for awhile.” Hinson indicated Owen was neglecting her duties and personal phone calls had been affecting her work. “She had been warned repeatedly,” Hinson added.
“The incident brought to our attention the need for security every day for employees and our citizens,” Mayor Bill Webb commented during a telephone interview. “This is a knee jerk response but we are working toward a sensible plan.”
Johnny Owen faces charges of attempted murder, aggravated assault, carrying weapons during judicial proceedings, possession of a handgun while under the influence and reckless endangerment.
“We are just thankful none of our people got hurt and we didn’t have to hurt him,” Sheriff Kilpatrick said. “I have known him my whole life. Any where else, law enforcement may not have been as patient.”
Posted Friday, October 14, 2016
Friday morning at approximately 9 a.m. a man with a gun entered the Lewis County Court House via the elevator to confront his wife who was an employee of one of the offices.
An official in the circuit court clerk’s office heard loud voices. The Circuit Court Clerk alerted security when she found Johnny Owen and his wife struggling over a gun in a room at the back of the courtroom.
Security officers arrived within seconds and a shot was fired by the gun in Owen’s possession, striking the wall only feet away from
General Sessions Court which was in progress. The courtroom and the court house were evacuated immediately.
Sheriff Dwayne Kilpatrick and Chief Livingston arrived within minutes and reported the man told his wife to “let them shoot me” during the incident. The wife was able to get the weapon from Owen who was then taken into custody. The bullet did not penetrate the wall, City of Hohenwald Chief of Police Sam Livingston said. No injuries were reported.
Johnny Owen reportedly suffers from a terminal illness.
Sheriff Kilpatrick reported the incident as workplace domestic violence as the man made no threats to any member of the court or to law enforcement.
Owen was able to enter the court house through an elevator on the north side of the courthouse from the street. While there were security guards in place at the doors to the court room, no one was monitoring that entrance. The Lewis County Sheriff’s Department stepped up security at the court house with all traffic being directed into one door as security measures are being re-evaluated.
Charges are pending.