Being in the common pleas court room so much, during some of the downtime I’ve often found myself wondering what I would do in a situation like what happened a couple weeks ago when a man sentenced to prison tried to run from the courtroom, even though he had to get through several armed law enforcement personnel to achieve freedom.
A couple times a month, sometimes more often, I’m in that courtroom for hours. It’s not all excitement and such, and a lot of it is the monotonous recitation of constitutional rights and just the correct pathways of not infringing on a person’s rights, addressing certain things for the integrity of the record of proceedings and all that jazz — it all takes some time. With all that time, I have some time to ponder things.
Most of the time, people heading to prison receive their fate without so much as a batted eye. Every once in a while, someone sentenced to prison will be visibly emotional, whether that be with tears or anger. But for the first time in three and a half years of covering that court, I saw someone bolt for the door.
It happened so quickly, even though everyone near the door realized on some level of cognitive thought, that the actions of this man were not what they should be prior to his burst for freedom.
So there I was, inches from some rare and turbulent occurrence. When he took off, I didn’t try to be a hero. Heck, it never occurred to me.
I got out of the way quick as you please and left the subduing to those who are trained in such matters. I did get ahold of my camera though, and it’s not something I even realized I was doing at the time.
I watched some video footage later that clearly showed me getting out of the way, and quick, and in the process grabbing my camera. As I said, I didn’t think about it. It’s just what happened.
Where I sit in the courtroom has a lot to do with the potential for something not-so-nice going down. I’m always very near to those trained and equipped to deal with it. The only possible weapon I have is my camera.
I think it’s much better to use it as it was intended rather than a potential bludgeoning tool.
So as the incident unfolded at lightning speed I was snapping away. I had the only front-row seat in the house.
I remember sitting there thinking that all those law enforcement people, five total, each had at least one firearm on their person. And in the middle of the fray was a man that had already exhibited poor judgement — who’s to say that situation couldn’t have gotten a lot worse? It was certainly a thought in my mind, and there wasn’t any desperation fueling my thoughts.
The whole thing was a bit frightening really. Add to that the sounds of the scuffle — the grunting and banging around, the orders for the dude to go down, the defendant’s own admission that he was done, even though he clearly wasn’t as he fought on for some time.
He fought like his life depended on it and because of that the whole thing took much longer than it should have with five people working to get this guy to submit.
And while it’s not good what happened, the adrenaline gets pumping nonetheless. My heart was racing and I was just a seated spectator.
When those everlasting couple of minutes were finally done and the man was in custody, he was clearly out of breath as he was escorted back in the courtroom and everyone else involved was out of breath, too, a couple even dabbing blood from a little cut on a hand or an ear.
It was just plain nuts in there for a minute. It was terrifying and exciting. And there was the question, too, at least to all of us left in the courtroom while it was going on, “What are we to do with ourselves?” After all, the exit was blocked, there was some madness going on, you feel like you shouldn’t watch but you just can’t help yourself.
So, my reaction to this particular incident was good for the paper, good from a journalistic standpoint. But I also found myself a little disappointed that my first reaction was not to be a good citizen. But on the heels of that comes the thought that that would have been supremely stupid. After all, I had a pen and paper and a camera. The people that got this feisty and desperate man subdued had training and weapons and body armor.
No, I believe I did exactly what I should have done and left the heavy lifting to the professionals.
Reach Angela Shepherd at 937-393-3456, ext. 1681, or on Twitter @wordyshepherd.