The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.
A man tried to grab a police officer’s gun in a Lincoln County courtroom this week and the Sheriff’s Office said Thursday that a 1-year-old federal appeals decision contributed to the near-disaster.
A judge had denied a request by deputies to restrain defendant Scott Patrick Lemmon, 27, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
In a scuffle caught on courtroom video Wednesday, a man identified by the Sheriff’s Office as Lemmon suddenly stands up and lunges for a gun worn by a Newport police officer sitting at the counsel table nearby.
The officer was able to turn away in a split second and a courthouse deputy quickly tackled Lemmon to the floor.
Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Josh McDowall said the response averted a possible catastrophe.
“There would have been a shootout in the courthouse,” McDowall said. “I don’t like to think about it. It would have been scary.”
This is the first case, he said, of a Lincoln County defendant grabbing for a gun since the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision came down in May 2017.
The 9th Circuit ruled in favor of federal public defenders who challenged a U.S. Marshals policy of restraining criminal defendants with handcuffs, belly chains and leg shackles when they are escorted into the courtroom.
Defense attorneys have long argued that handcuffs and other restraints often are unnecessary and can prejudice not only juries but judges by sending the message that defendants are so dangerous that authorities must control their ability to move freely.
In August 2017, the 9th Circuit again sided with public defenders in a second ruling.
The result: Many courthouses across the nine states covered by the 9th Circuit made dramatic changes to their rules for restraining criminal defendants. In Multnomah County, Lincoln County and a number of other Oregon counties, that has means judges first must give the OK for each and every defendant to be restrained during courtroom hearings.
Previously, the decision whether to shackle was often left up to sheriff’s deputies in charge of courthouse security.
Lemmon was on trial on allegations that he pointed a realistic-looking fake gun at two guests at a beachfront condo in Newport, threatened to kill them and then robbed them of cash and valuables, according to a probable cause affidavit.
Because it was a trial, the Sheriff’s Office had requested an “electronic restraint” — an anklet concealed under his pants — instead of leg irons that would be seen by jurors.
If Lemmon acted up, deputies could shock him remotely with the press of a button. But a judge denied the request, and Lemmon was unrestrained when he lunged for the gun, McDowall said.
An electronic anklet probably wouldn’t have stopped the lunge for the officer’s gun, McDowall conceded. But he said if Lemmon had been wearing it and he had unholstered the gun, deputies could have incapacitated him an instant later with an electric shock.
Defense attorneys, however, have sharply criticized the use of the shock anklets or similar devices, saying they’re barbaric and can make defendants appear nervous, uneasy and jittery while on trial.
The Sheriff’s Office said the devices are effective as a deterrent and its deputies have rarely if ever had to shock a defendant.
During Lemmon’s trial, deputies considered him high-risk because he was swiveling in his chair, leaning backward and forward and fidgeting, McDowall said.
“They were catching him paying extra close attention to the officer’s gun,” McDowall said. “He kept looking at it.”
McDowall commended the quick thinking of Newport Police Officer Jon Humphreys for turning away and the Sheriff’s Office employees — Cpl. Giovanni Barbers and Deputy Lisa Mathies — for tackling McDowall and handcuffing him.
The Sheriff’s Office expects to pursue additional charges against Lemmon for the scuffle, McDowall said.
— Aimee Green
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