After a public defender was punched in the head during a closed circuit hearing from a jailhouse courtroom, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony said that that all inmates will be handcuffed during their first-appearance hearings.
Tony indicated that security at magistrate hearings was “lax” because the Broward Public Defender’s Office had a longstanding position that handcuffs or shackles could suggest that defendant was guilty.
The change in procedures, announced late Wednesday, came after Assistant Public Defender Julie Chase was punched in the head from behind by an inmate during a morning hearing for another person.
Chase was taken to Broward Health Medical Center by ambulance but was discharged before noon.
As she left the hospital she told WPLG-Ch. 10, “I’m OK.”
“She’s a very dedicated attorney,” said Public Defender’s Office Executive Chief Assistant, Gordon Weekes. “This is very unfortunate what happened this morning.”
Chase has been working with the Public Defender’s Office since 2005 and has handled a variety of cases, he said.
Weekes identified the man who punched Chase as William L. Green, 27, who was awaiting a hearing following an arrest on a battery charge at an area mental health facility. He is now facing additional battery charges. No one else was injured during the incident.
The courtroom assault happened as Broward Judge Jackie Powell was preparing to set bond in the unrelated case of Natasha Mattie Walker, 39, who was arrested on charges of aggravated stalking and aggravated assault.
In Broward’s first-appearance court, recently arrested defendants appear before a judge who is there to set their bonds and release conditions — not to hear evidence or try their cases. The judge is in a small courtroom, with other court personnel, and the defendants appear by way of remote video hookups from each of three Broward jails.
In the courtroom at Broward’s Main Jail, where this incident happened, inmates typically appear at a podium next to a public defender who is representing them.
As the judge and attorneys were discussing her case, Green was seated in the jail’s courtroom with numerous other detainees who were awaiting their bond court hearings.
Before suddenly getting up and smacking Chase in the back of the head, he is seen watching the hearing while holding his chin in his left hand.
After Chase falls to the ground, the other seated defendants react with shock as three courtroom bailiffs drag Green from the courtroom.
There is no indication that Green knows Walker, the woman whose case was being heard.
The judge, who had been looking at papers filed in Walker’s case, noticed something was wrong when she looked at the monitor showing the jail’s courtroom and saw the aftermath of the punch.
“What happened?” she asked.
A public defender seated in her courtroom is seen on the telephone and then asks, “Judge, can we go on recess, please?”
Weekes, from the public defender’s office, is outraged over the attack, which he called preventable.
“He [Green] seemed to be in a clear psychotic state and he was arrested for battering a [hospital] technician, attacking him from the back,” Weekes said.
He questioned why Green was taken away from a facility that was likely equipped to treat any mental health condition he might have.
“There was a big push to have officers trained to deal with crises, trained to identify folks with mental health illnesses, trained to make better decisions about who they were going to arrest and it seems like going into a hospital to arrest someone who is acting out in a psychotic state, consistent with their psychosis, only seems to transfer the issue to the jail.”
Weekes said his fellow public defenders have a tough enough job defending clients without having to worry about defending themselves.
“For our attorney to take the brunt of the failures of law enforcement …is unacceptable.”
In a statement Wednesday evening, Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony responded to the criticism, saying: “It’s troubling that an inmate would assault an officer of the court. I’ve reviewed the footage of the bond court incident and have gone over the facts with command staff in the Department of Detention. I learned that over the last several years, BSO has received numerous requests from the Public Defender’s Office asking for a more lax approach to our security procedures during magistrate hearings, which take place through a closed circuit television feed from inside the jail.
“Although I understand their concern that having deputies standing close to the inmates or having them wear handcuffs or shackles could imply guilt, they must in turn understand that their requests made it possible for this unusual situation to occur.”
Tony continued: “As the senior ranking law enforcement official for Broward County, I am obligated to ensure all policies related to the protection and safety of our court officials are enforced. Effective immediately all inmates will be handcuffed during these proceedings as to reduce the ability of an inmate to cause similar harm or greater. The safety of my fellow criminal justice practitioners is of the highest priority.“