PIERRE, S.D. — A federal judge in South Dakota is ordering U.S. Marshals — officers sworn to protect federal courthouses — to a contempt-of-court hearing after marshals vacated an Aberdeen, S.D., courthouse earlier this month, with prisoners in tow, following the judge questioning a deputy marshal whether she'd been vaccinated or not.

U.S. District Judge Charles Kornmann, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the federal bench in 1995 and oversees the Northern District Court of South Dakota, filed the hearing order on Wednesday, May 19 — over a week after Kornmann ordered an unnamed deputy marshal out of his courtroom when she did not indicate whether she'd been vaccinated against COVID-19 or not.

After she'd left during morning hearings, Kornmann wrote that he received word prior to afternoon hearings that "the Marshal Service had left the courthouse with the prisoners."

Now, the 83-year-old judge has summoned John Kilgallon, the Marshals chief of staff in Washington, D.C.; Daniel C. Mosteller, the U.S. Marshal for the District of South Dakota, and Stephen Houghtaling, Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal for the District of South Dakota, to his courtroom in Aberdeen on June 14 to explain themselves and face contempt.

"I had always thought that the principal responsibilities of the Marshals Service was the protection of the federal judiciary," Kornmann wrote, suggesting the marshals could be liable to monetary penalties. "As it stands now, they could well be the most dangerous people in the courtroom in any given case."

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In emails exchanged between South Dakota's chief federal judge, Roberto Lange, and Kilgallon, that Kornmann entered in the public record, Kilgallon said only 44% of the U.S. Marshals in South Dakota had been vaccinated against COVID-19. Kilgallon also states he would not be requiring employees to "take the vaccine, nor are we requiring that they divulge their vaccination status."

In a response, Lange — who sits on the federal bench in Pierre — told Kilgallon this was "not the response that we had hoped to hear."

Kornmann writes that one of his staff is "very much at risk" to COVID-19 due to health complications, and that defendants held in custody — who ultimately end up in his courtroom — are often held in "close proximity" to marshals while being transferred by vehicle.

"[P]risoners have the right to expect that the Court will protect them from unnecessary risks to their health and safety," Kornmann wrote.

Forum News Service has contacted the U.S. Marshal Service for comment on the hearing.