Wash. inmate attacks deputy in court, gets TASERed

The inmate was TASERed twice after going for the deputy's gun in the scuffle

By Richard Byrd
Columbia Basin Herald

EPHRATA, Wash. — A corrections deputy was attacked in open court by an unshackled Grant County Jail inmate Tuesday morning. The incident prompted significant discussion in court on Tuesday regarding the shackling of inmates.

The inmate, 26-year-old Alejandro Rodriguez, has been in jail since August following an arrest in the Lakeview community after he reportedly fired shots at several officers. Rodriguez was shot himself in an exchange of gunfire with police and was later booked into the jail. He is currently facing charges in Grant County Superior Court of four counts of first-degree assault-law enforcement officer and is being held without bail based on the severity of the charges and the possibility of a life sentence if he is convicted. Charges are expected to be filed against Rodriguez for Tuesday's incident.

Rodriguez was scheduled to be in court Tuesday for a hearing when the incident with the corrections deputy occurred. Rodriguez entered the courtroom unshackled and, for reasons that remain a mystery, proceeded to attack corrections deputy Willie Rodriguez. There were four deputies in the courtroom when the incident occurred and at some point in the moments immediately after the scuffle Alejandro Rodriguez grabbed for Willie Rodriguez's gun. Alejandro was tased twice by corrections deputy Brian Kisler as a result, after which he complied with directives and was escorted out of the courtroom.

Rodriguez is no stranger to bizarre courtroom antics. During his preliminary appearance on the above-listed charges back in August Rodriguez pointed his middle finger, in full view of the court, in the direction of two reporters and a number of law enforcement officers who were present.

Subsequent to Tuesday morning's incident Grant County Prosecutor Garth Dano addressed the court on the issue of the shackling of inmates. An appeals court has ruled the shackling of inmates in a pre-trial setting is in violation of the inmate's Fifth Amendment rights. Over the past few weeks defense attorneys have been requesting their clients be unshackled when they are present in court and the requests have been considered on a case-by-case basis.

The prosecutor was quick on Tuesday after the incident to reach out to the Grant County Commissioners with regard to erecting some sort of a cage-like enclosure in the courtroom to address safety concerns. The commissioners agreed and directed maintenance staff to explore that possibility and make it happen quickly.

Estudillo said as of right now he does not know if he has the authority to grant that order and he cannot grant it until he allows the public defender's office to have a say on the matter and case law is analyzed.

“On the first blush it sounds reasonable to me. But the reality is there may be some type of case law or other authority that maybe the defense is able to point out that says ‘Hey, hold up. You can't do this,'” the judge said.

Dano, calling Tuesday's circumstances an emergency, requested the court issue a directive to allow all individual inmates be brought to court in shackles.

“Just an observation, if we make one mistake in this regard and somebody dies then what are we going to say?” Dano questioned in court.

Estudillo's apprehension with regard to the request relates to established case law and the possibility of inmates' constitutional rights being violated if the request is granted. In a letter sent to the three superior court judges by Sheriff Tom Jones on Tuesday he states he has ordered his staff to keep all inmates restrained.

“Due to recent events, staffing shortages, lack of courtroom preparedness; and the safety and security of the inmates, staff and the court; I have directed my staff to no longer proceed with inmates in the courtroom unrestrained,” reads the letter. “Our staff will be conducting their inmate escorts in to the courtroom as we have in the past. The Washington Court of Appeals rulings will not come before the safety and security of my staff, inmates and the court we are required to be responsible for.”

Estudillo said if the sheriff's office is going to continue bringing inmates into the courtroom shackled he will be asking for an individualized assessment from the state prior to the weekly criminal docket for inmates that indicates whether they are a potential threat. He said if the assessment does not show the inmate is a threat he is bound by the law to order they not be shackled.

The assessment notion was a hot point of contention during Tuesday's discussion. The judge said there was a previous directive issued in late November to the state to file a motion if there is an inmate they believe should be shackled. Based on the seriousness of the charges, as well as the defendant's past conduct in the courtroom and him being shackled before the appeals court decision came out, Estudillo said a motion should have been filed before Tuesday to have Rodriguez shackled.

Jones addressed that issue in his letter to the judges by stating Rodriguez has had no assaultive behavior or other sanctions imposed against him since he was booked into the jail.

“As discussed in our meeting last week, it was told that the charges someone faces alone are not a good enough factor to deem the inmate to be restrained. This is the prime example of an inmate having no issues in jail, was able (to) plan and take advantage of an opportunity presented to him. Again, these are the ones we should be most concerned with.”

Estudillo directed the public defender's office to file a preliminary brief on the issues raised on Tuesday by Friday morning.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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