Court Security

Court Spree Shooter Allegedly Abused Wife Long Ago, Looked for Judge Who OK'd 1999 Protective Order


A man who fired 70 rounds at an Arkansas courthouse from semi-automatic weapons on Tuesday before being shot to death in a gunfight with authorities didn’t seem likely to snap, the police chief of his hometown said afterward.

But James Palmer’s former wife, and perhaps some of his family members, apparently may have known better.

Steffeny Palmer said in a 1999 petition seeking a protective order that Palmer physically and mentally abused her, that he once set their couch on fire and that he told her father he bought assault weapons for “hunting two-legged” targets, the Associated Press reports. He also allegedly hit her in front of their son.

On Tuesday, authorities have said, the 48-year-old Palmer likely set up an incendiary device that put his own Kibler home on fire as he was at the Crawford County courthouse in camouflage, armed with an assault rifle, apparently looking for Circuit Judge Gary Cottrell. He is the judge who granted the protective order sought by Palmer’s wife more than a decade ago and later presided over the couple’s subsequent divorce.

Palmer also texted his mom before the shootings, police said, telling her “Today’s the day. Today I’m going to die,” reports an earlier Associated Press article. She called police about the message, but it isn’t clear that there was anything they could have done to prevent the attack.

The police chief in Kibler was stunned by the news of Palmer’s shooting spree, in which only one person, the judge’s secretary, reportedly was directly injured.

Although the divorce “seemed to always be on his mind,” the police chief, Roger Green, said today of Palmer, there was no indication that anything was seriously wrong during their chats at the police station in recent years, the AP reports.

“I had gone through a divorce earlier, and I understood his feelings about divorce,” said Green, “but I never expected him to do anything like this. There were no signs.”

Cottrell, who didn’t hold any hearings on Tuesday because he was home with a sore knee, said at a courthouse press conference yesterday that he’d been threatened before in more than 25 years on the bench, but never before had anyone acted to carry out such threats, reports the Times Record.

Although Cottrell doesn’t remember Palmer or hearing his case, he said “This guy came to wipe out my office. I believe if he had killed me he would have killed everyone in his path.”

The judge apologized for “the hurt” to everyone in Palmer’s path, the newspaper reports, and said he is also sorry that he “felt such frustration that he had to go to this extent.”

Additional coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Gunman Who Fired Assault Rifle in Ark. Courthouse May Have Targeted Judge in His Divorce Case”

Times Record: “Police: Lack Of Injuries Inexplicable”

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