A south Florida public defender whose colleague was sucker punched during a court hearing for no apparent reason is questioning why the suspect was arrested and taken from the mental institution he was in (scroll down for video).
Cameras caught the 27-year-old man, 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighing 185 pounds, walking up to a female public defender from the side and behind and punching her in the back of the head during a jailhouse courtroom hearing Wednesday morning in Broward County.
At the time, the public defender was representing another defendant for a bond hearing. The judge, the lawyer, and the defendants were all in a small courtroom within the jail.
The victim was taken to a hospital but released around noontime, according to the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale.
More than a dozen defendants were sitting in blue chairs waiting their turn before the judge.
At one point, with no apparent provocation, the suspect got up, calmly walked over to whether the public defender was standing, and threw a left hook to the left side of the back portion of the female public defender’s head. Her long hair flew up and she went down quickly, holding her head with her left hand.
The judge was looking down at paperwork on her bench at the time of the incident, while another man, apparently a prosecutor, was speaking about paperwork in another case.
“What happened?” the judge asked, after looking up because of the commotion.
Several sheriff’s deputies moved in and tackled the suspect, who will now be charged with additional battery counts.
The video published by the newspaper shows five angles of the court proceedings, including one on the defendants sitting in blue chairs wearing tan tops and pants, including the suspect’s attack. The other defendants in the video look shocked by what he did.
“She’s a very dedicated attorney,” said Gordon Weekes, the Public Defender’s Office Executive Chief Assistant. “This is very unfortunate what happened this morning.”
Police had previously arrested the 27-year-old man “in a clear psychotic state” for hitting a mental hospital technician in the back, which is why he was at the jail in the first place, according to Gordon Weekes, the chief executive assistant of the Broward Public Defender’s Office. The suspect was initially charged with misdemeanor battery for the hospital incident.
But that doesn’t make sense to Weekes, since the suspect had mental problems and was already in a secure facility.
“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, according to the Sun-Sentinel.
Weekes sees the attack on the public defender as the fault of the police officers who decided to arrest the mental patient.
“For our attorney to take the brunt of the failures of law enforcement … is unacceptable,” Weekes said, according to the Sun-Sentinel.