PORTLAND — A New Gloucester man who authorities say tried to sneak a handgun into Portland District Court is charged with having a gun in a courthouse, carrying a concealed weapon and violating a temporary protection-from-abuse order.

Val Graffa, 42, was arrested Friday morning after deputy judicial marshals found a .45-caliber Bond Arms, two-shot Derringer style handgun in a zippered pouch at the courthouse entrance’s security checkpoint. The gun, detected by an X-ray machine, was not loaded and Graffa was not found to be carrying ammunition.

“We view it as very serious,” said William Snedeker, chief of the Maine Judicial Marshals, noting that signs at the courthouse warn people not to bring guns inside.

Snedeker said Graffa told marshals that he forgot the gun was in the pouch.

Graffa was scheduled to attend a hearing Friday on a protection-from-abuse order requested against him by a former girlfriend, who lives in South Portland. The request does not allege any recent incidents of violence.

The judicial system cannot afford to do security screening all the time that Maine’s courthouses are open, but security is often tight during high-profile trials or during family court matters like hearings on child custody and protection-from-abuse orders.

The screening is much like that at an airport. Items are passed through an X-ray machine while the person walks through a metal detector.

“It’s sort of random screening, so they never know when we are and when we’re not screening,” said Snedeker. “The disconcerting thing for us is, we screen as much as we can but we always wonder, for every one of these we grab, what might be getting in here on the days we don’t screen?”

Finding a firearm is rare, he said.

Chief Justice Leigh Saufley has repeatedly sought additional funding for court security in recent years. She has said that people must feel safe in court or they won’t seek the court’s protection.

Saufley requested a $2.5 million increase in funding for each of the next two years to pay for more frequent screening, though given the economy and the tight state budget, funding increases are unlikely this year, officials say.

“It’s a critical need and we ask for it every year,” said Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the judiciary. “We hope some year it will be funded, but it’s unlikely it will be this year.”

Friday’s hearing on the protection order was postponed after Graffa was arrested.

Graffa was taken to the Cumberland County Jail, where he was released later Friday day on unsecured bond. All three of the charges against him are misdemeanors.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]