Fort Lauderdale, FL – All inmates will be handcuffed during future magistrate hearings after a Broward County public defender was punched in the head by an inmate on Wednesday (video below).
Broward County Sheriff Tony Gregory placed the blame for the attack squarely at the feet of the Public Defender’s Office, which has repeatedly requested that defendants not be handcuffed, the Sun Sentinel reported.
“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,” Sheriff Gregory explained.
The sheriff said he had reviewed the video of the incident and reviewed the facts with the Department of Detention, the Sun Sentinel reported.
He said that the Broward Sheriff’s Office has received numerous requests from the Public Defender’s Office asking for “a more lax approach to our security procedures during magistrate hearings.”
The hearings are conducted via a closed-circuit television feed from inside the Broward County jail, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Sheriff Gregory announced after the incident that he was putting the kibosh on the friendlier approach.
“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,” the sheriff said. “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,” he reiterated.
The incident occurred on March 27 as Broward County Assistant Public Defender Julie Chase was advocating on behalf of a different inmate, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Police said that the inmate who attacked Chase, 27-year-old William Green, was in jail following his arrest for attacking a technician at a mental hospital, and awaiting his own hearing before the magistrate when he attacked the attorney.
The surveillance video from the hearing room showed that Chase was standing at the podium with her client when Green got up from his seat behind them.
He walked calmly up to Chase and just as he was about to pass her, he raised his left arm and punched her in the head with a closed fist, the video showed.
The other defendants in the room appeared stunned and were ordered to move away from Green as three deputies took the suspect to the ground.
The attack happened so quickly that the judge on the other side of the video feed did not even see it happen, and had to ask what was going on, the Sun Sentinel reported.
Public Defender’s Office Executive Chief Assistant Gordon Weekes called Chase a “very dedicated attorney” who has worked for the public defender for 14 years.
“This is very unfortunate what happened this morning,” Weekes said, and called the attack “preventable,” according to the Sun Sentinel.
He blamed the attack on the fact that the deputies had arrested Green.
“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 added that Green should have been kept in the mental health facility where the staff would have better equipped to deal with his mental state instead of taken to jail.
“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 complained.
“For our attorney to take the brunt of the failures of law enforcement… is unacceptable,” Weekes told the Sun-Sentinel.
Chase was taken to the hospital by ambulance after the attack and a few hours later.
She told reporters she was “okay” but still in shock over the attack.
You can see video of the attack below: