Mimesis Law
28 April 2017

Contempt Of Cop Results In Shot To The Buttocks

December 12, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Contempt of court. Never a good thing. Contempt of cop. Even worse! It can get you shot in Clayton County, Georgia, especially if you are using a computer tablet.

It’s not a crime to have or use a cellphone or computer tablet in a courtroom. Sure, maybe it’s a court rule, but that would be punishable by contempt of court for violating a judge’s rule or order. Despite the plethora of new crimes created each year by our legislatures, Georgia has yet to criminalize the use of digital devices. But like any bad incident incites new law, I’m sure it’s coming.

With crowded courtrooms and overrun dockets, there’s often a lot of hurry up and wait to any court proceeding. Like everyone else, Benarvis Johnson was sitting in the Clayton County courtroom waiting for his child support case to be called. Around 9:30 a.m., a deputy who provides security for the courthouse complex noticed Johnson using his tablet. The deputy promptly ordered him to stop and put it away. When Johnson continued, the officer called for backup. Yes, backup! A man didn’t put his computer away. After all, the officer had told him to stop using it. Surely this was the crime of the Century and needed immediate attention.

There’s no indication the judge had any issue with the computer. Maybe it’s a standing house rule, but police don’t generally enforce house rules. Sure, the judge could hold Johnson in contempt and order the bailiff or deputy to detain Johnson on the contempt allegation, but that’s not what happened. The deputy told him to stop, and he didn’t. That’s not the unlawful use of an electronic device, but instead, fell under the felonious contempt of cop statute.* And, as with any serious felony, it’s always wise to call for backup.

Backup arrived and two deputies, with at least one taser drawn, escorted Johnson to the hallway. Some bystander cellphone video shows one of the deputies dragging Johnson via his backpack. Some say escort. Some say drag. Potato, potahto. Nonetheless, Johnson was then in the hallway.

Authorities said the man was escorted from the courtroom before he was tased. When that had no effect, police said they fired one shot.

Tased? Shot? Yes, you read that right. In fairness, and according to a witness inside the courtroom, Johnson did say, “don’t put your hands on me.” And the deputies were having none of that backtalk. Officers continued to instruct the man to put away the tablet and he continued hold the tablet firmly in his hand as he was shoved down the hall.

Minutes later, one of the deputies shot the suspect after an attempt to use a taser was ineffective.

Shot in the buttocks. That’s one way to get his attention. Teach him to use a computer tablet in a courtroom. Teach him to not listen to a cop’s instruction, no matter how unlawful.

“I didn’t see a reason to shoot that man,” McQueen [an eyewitness] said.

“Everybody’s using cell phones in there too so what’s the difference between a tablet and a cell phone?” eyewitness Alfred King said. “It was all unnecessary. It could have been avoided if the officer didn’t bring himself down to the level of the suspect.”

The witnesses didn’t see a reason to shoot. They too thought it was unnecessary. Sure, in hindsight, Johnson probably should have just put the tablet away. But we all missed the point: this was not just about a tablet. This was bigger.

According to Jonesboro Police Chief Franklin Allen:

It is unclear if the individual was reaching for the officer’s gun or if the officer reacted instinctively and drew his weapon, firing one shot striking the individual.

Unclear if Johnson was reaching for the officer’s gun?  With a tablet in his hand and being shoved down the hall? Instinctively drew his weapon? An instinct to enforce a house rule? Oh wait, I keep getting confused. This was contempt of cop.

Of course, this all could have been avoided if we just had more cops. According to Clayton County’s probate judge, Pam Ferguson, increased security in her courtroom may have helped prevent a man being shot after refusing to give up his tablet. While she’s never heard of an incident escalating over a cellphone or tablet, she has had an underlying concern about security in the building.

While the cases at the courthouse annex tend to be about wills, licenses, and child support, the judge said that doesn’t make the atmosphere any less dangerous than criminal trials.

Her court was turned down in the past due to budget constraints, but moving forward, she hopes she’ll have an easier time convincing the sheriff to give her more help.

I’m certain that would do the trick. More police can monitor more cellphones and computers. More security can weed out those threats brought about by technology. No sense having people calm their nerves with a little candy crush while they wait hours on end. Well, at the very least, having more deputies will provide more support to those enforcing the felonious contempt of cop.

*Surely this offense exists somewhere, though no one has yet been able to locate it.

9 Comments on this post.

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  • RICHARD KOPF
    12 December 2016 at 10:33 am - Reply

    JoAnne,

    Cops writ large should never provide security in the courtroom. In fact, cops, FBI agents, DEA agents, etc should never be allowed to keep their weapons while in the courthouse. Law enforcement officers generally don’t have the training and experience to provide security in a courthouse let alone use a weapon in a courthouse.

    A cadre of court security officers (like the US Marshals or federal Court Security Officers (the “blue blazers”)) should always be assigned the duties of court security. If that is not feasible, there is special training available that can lessen, but not eliminate, the unnecessary and dangerous use of force that you describe so well

    What a clown show! Screw the cops, it is the judiciary that should be both concerned and embarrassed. (Our motto: Come to court, and get a bullet in the ass.) The judges ought to step in and demand change.

    Thanks for writing about this subject. It is very important. All the best.

    RGK

    • shg
      12 December 2016 at 11:45 am - Reply

      Coma et Kurt, Andes Buy bullet Eun Tae et asinum.” Everything sounds better in Latin.

    • Dwight Mann f/k/a “dm”
      12 December 2016 at 12:29 pm - Reply

      That’s not my experience judge. Maybe it’s just something in the water in the Federal District Court in Denver, but whenever I’ve been in the court (in full suit and representing a (criminal) client) the US Marshalls have always come off as relatively ill tempered and humorless whereas the local sheriff’s deputies working in the five state district courts (everything but misdemeanors) that I work in are generally pleasant and relatively good humored. Maybe it’s just Denver, but maybe they’re on their best behavior when you’re present (perhaps you’ve made it clear that everybody in your courtroom is to be treated like human beings?).

    • Anon
      12 December 2016 at 3:41 pm - Reply

      Why?
      It would be strange that FBI/DEA are sufficiently well-trained with firearms (and, FTM, custodial management) — at least on par as the USMS, and certainly better trained than CSOs — that they’re trusted to carry firearms on planes, among other sensitive locations, but not inside a federal courthouse, courtroom, or chambers. And, depending on who all is housed in the federal building, it would be silly, if not impracticable to have such a policy. I’m certain the CDUSM doesn’t share your view.

      • RICHARD KOPF
        12 December 2016 at 5:43 pm - Reply

        Anon.,

        The USMS developed the policy, not me. The judges agreed even when the FBI bitched.

        All the best.

        RGK

    • Anon
      12 December 2016 at 7:33 pm - Reply
  • Richard Kopf
    12 December 2016 at 6:06 pm - Reply

    DM,

    This will be quick. Time Warner (now Spectrum) has been up and down for 9 days at my home, so my earlier lengthy and funny, I thought, reply was lost.

    So, using my IPhone, let me simply say this: the judges must set a standard that insists that USMS treat everyone kindly and with respect.

    All the best.

    RGK

    • Dwight Mann f/k/a “dm”
      13 December 2016 at 11:10 am - Reply

      That makes sense. I was at an undergraduate classmate’s extradition (he’s now doing around 15 in lovely Mexico) hearing in Los Angeles and happened to end up in the hallway at the same time as the Marshalls were taking him back to jail. They politely asked me to stand next to the wall on the other side of the wide hallway as they all walked past and I was pleasantly surprised at their demeanor given my experiences in Denver. I don’t know how judges would get the feedback that the Marshalls are acting a bit jerky, but it makes sense that they would instruct the Marshalls to be pleasant except under appropriate circumstances (like when the defense attorney got really mouthy after the Bundy verdict?). Thanks for taking the time to respond (twice apparently!). Best regards judge.

  • Anon
    12 December 2016 at 7:39 pm - Reply