FORT LAUDERDALE -- A man distraught about his divorce case entered the crowded lobby of the Broward County Courthouse Friday morning, pointed a handgun at himself and demanded to speak with a judge.
Courthouse deputies saw Marin Stroia, 59, of Oakland Park enter the courthouse lobby through an unmanned exit door at 9:25 a.m. As deputies approached, Stroia sat on the lobby floor next to the escalator, the weapon pointed at his chest.
While filling in during bond court hearings Friday, retired Judge Joel T. Lazarus said he became aware of what was happening one floor below and was told that a man wanted to speak with a judge.
Lazarus approached but paused when he saw Stroia with the weapon beneath his chin.
Lazarus said, “I told the man, ‘I won’t go down there until you put the gun down,’”
The judge said the man told him he had one bullet in the gun.
“I don’t want that bullet in me,” Lazarus said he told the man.
After Stroia was disarmed, Lazarus joined Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Kiernan. The men spoke with Stroia, who is a licensed security officer, for 10 to 15 minutes.
According to Lazarus, Stroia was distraught about his divorce proceedings and felt everyone “was conspiring against him. He was ranting and raving about his divorce situation, but not incoherently,” Lazarus said. “He needed to vent, he needed someone to listen to his problems.”
After Stroia calmed down, Lazarus promised Stroia could write to him about the way his legal case is being handled, and that Lazarus would pass Stroia’s concerns along to Chief Judge Victor Tobin.
Lazarus said he told Stroia: “’I can’t promise you results; I can promise you someone will listen to you.’ I think that’s all he wanted.”
Stroia was taken into custody and to the jail behind the courthouse.
Broward County’s main courthouse is in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
After Stroia’s arrest, thoughts naturally turned to how this could have happened at the beginning of the court day, when lawyers, jurors and litigants lined the sidewalk to enter and pass through the main lobby’s metal detectors.
Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said budget cuts have affected security at the courthouse, along with weaknesses in the building’s design.
“We need to enhance the security at the courthouse,” Lamberti said. “New doors will be an immediate request.”
Law enforcement officers said they would like to see lockable, one-way revolving exit doors installed that would prevent visitors who try to bypass security lines and metal detectors from entering the courthouse. People are often stopped by deputies stationed in the lobby opposite the exit doors.
The sheriff’s budget is approved by the Broward County Commission. Lamberti said his agency has done at least two studies on courthouse security that he said were also supported by findings from the National Sheriff’s Association and the U.S. Marshals Service.
“Everything has come down to funding,” Lamberti said. “This guy came through the exit door that is currently unmanned because since 2007, we’ve had to reduce personnel from 31 armed, sworn deputies to 25 total who work in four courthouses.”
Lamberti said security cuts came as judicial ranks have swelled.
“While they’ve added 31 additional magistrates and judges and hearing officers, we’ve had no increase in personnel,” the sheriff said. “Courtroom deputies are not armed. We’re severely understaffed when you compare us to Miami Dade and Palm Beach Counties.”
Veteran Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Patrick Kiernan recognized Stroia, whom he had previously arrested in front of the courthouse in June when the shooter also expressed suicidal thoughts, a Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman said.
Lamberti said Kiernan “did a great job by being very alert. He recognized the individual that we’ve had past dealings with, obviously at his own peril. Here was a guy who was armed and the deputy went and talked with him. He was not worried about his own personal safety, got him to drop the weapon and slide it away.”
Lazarus also received praise from the sheriff. The men have known each other for three decades.
“The guy wanted to talk to a judge, and Judge Lazarus came down and with the deputy, they continued to talk with (Stroia), even after he dropped the gun,” Lamberti said. “The judge calmed him down and diffused it. I’m proud of the deputy, and I think the judge epitomizes public service by also putting his own security at risk.”
Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.