Two Los Angeles police officers, who reportedly had been jokingly told by a judge to bring a public defender before him in pieces, allegedly dragged the protesting attorney out of a hearing before another judge Monday and hurled him through a courtroom door, bruising his leg.
The incident in Van Nuys Superior Court sparked an immediate hearing by the second judge into the possibility of bringing contempt charges against the officers. The hearing drew a large delegation of angry officials from the public defender's office.
Head Van Nuys Deputy Public Defender William Weiss termed the incident "an outrage."
"A public defender--an attorney at law--is standing before a courtroom doing his job and two Los Angeles police officers drag him out and physically throw him through a door in full view of an entire courtroom of people," Weiss said.
"That's not the way the judicial system is supposed to function."
Judge Alan B. Haber convened a hearing to determine whether Officers Nicholas Titiriga and Gregory Baltad were in contempt of court when they forcibly removed Deputy Public Defender Howard Waco from his courtroom.
The incident occurred after Judge Raymond T. Mireles asked the officers to bring Waco to his courtroom, according to several witnesses who testified at the contempt hearing.
Two witnesses said the judge jokingly asked the officers to "bring me a piece" or "body part" of Waco.
As shocked courtroom personnel and spectators looked on, the two officers grabbed Waco and pulled him from Haber's courtroom, where Waco was representing a client on a routine procedural matter.
The officers dragged the protesting deputy defender, still clutching his legal files, down the hall and into Mireles' courtroom. The officers pushed Waco into the courtroom, causing a deputy district attorney to scramble out of the way and Waco to suffer a bruised leg, witnesses testified.
"I'm outraged at what occurred," Haber said at the hearing. "I've never witnessed anything like it in all the years I've been an attorney or on the bench, and I've never heard of anything like it before.
"Frankly, the conduct is outrageous and I want to make sure it never happens again in my courtroom or in any other courtroom."
After testimony from several witnesses, the contempt hearing was continued until Nov. 17 to give Judge Mireles time to consult the Los Angeles County counsel's office and to give the officers time to discuss the incident with a lawyer from the city attorney's office.
The officers, assigned to the Police Department's elite Metropolitan Division, were in Mireles' court to testify against a man accused of a parole violation on a drug charge, witnesses said. Waco was serving as the man's public defender.
Police spokesman Cmdr. William Booth said the department will "wait until all the smoke clears" before deciding whether to open an administrative investigation.