FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A Florida sheriff says all inmates will now be handcuffed during bond hearings after a public defender was punched in the head. The lawyer's boss calls that an overreaction, and blames the episode on deputies who failed to contain a clearly "psychotic" defendant.
Broward County's newly appointed Sheriff Gregory Tony said the blame lies with the public defender's office, which he said created "lax security" by arguing against the routine handcuffing of defendants who are presumed innocent under law.
Closed-circuit video of Wednesday's jailhouse bond court session shows William Green, 27, attacking public defender Julie Chase from behind in a room crowded with inmates. She was knocked to the ground, stunning almost everyone in the room as well as the judge, who was presiding remotely. Deputies quickly handcuffed Green and cleared the room.
Gordon Weeks, executive chief assistant at the public defender's office, said the attack was preventable. He said Green appeared to be in a "clear psychotic state" at the time, and had been brought for his first appearance before a judge on charges he battered a technician at a mental hospital.
"For our attorney to take the brunt of the failures of law enforcement ... is unacceptable," Weeks told the Sun Sentinel . Public defenders have a tough enough job to do without having to worry about defending themselves in the courtroom, he added.
Chase said in a statement Thursday that she had recognized years ago that the criminal justice system is poorly suited to deal with the needs of the mentally ill.
"During the time I have worked as an assistant public defender, our office and Howard Finkelstein, our elected Public Defender, have placed great priority on improving the interaction between the criminal courts and the mentally ill," Chase said. "I know the criminal courts and many law enforcement agencies have followed our office's lead, yet there is still a long way to go."
Weeks said there is no indication Green knew either Chase or the other client. The video shows him sitting with other inmates, holding his chin in his left hand, before suddenly getting up and attacking the lawyer. He never should have been removed from a mental facility equipped to treat his conditions, Weeks said.
"There was a big push to have officers trained to deal with crises, trained to identify folks with mental 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 jail," Weeks said.
Tony, who was recently appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace Sheriff Scott Israel, said he too is troubled that an inmate would attack an officer of the court, but the answer is more security.
"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 said.