Defendant Sues Judge Over Jolt From Stun Belt
Ronnie Hawkins, who was given an electrical shock from a restraining stun belt for interrupting a judge at his Long Beach sentencing hearing two weeks ago, has filed a federal lawsuit for $50 million in punitive damages against Municipal Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani, his lawyer said Tuesday.
The suit, filed Monday, alleges that the judge’s order to activate the 50,000-volt jolt violated Hawkins’ constitutional rights and international law on human rights, said his attorney, Stephen Yagman.
The class-action suit also seeks an injunction to prevent further use of the stun belt on defendants and prisoners who pose no physical threat. Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block and an unidentified sheriff’s sergeant who oversaw courtroom security during Hawkins’ sentencing hearing are named as co-defendants.
Comparet-Cassani has said that judicial ethics prevent her from talking about a pending case.
Legal experts say Hawkins’ claim for monetary damages has little chance of success because Comparet-Cassani can claim virtually absolute immunity over actions she took while on the bench.
Hawkins was acting as his own lawyer at the June 30 hearing when his repeated interruptions led to his becoming the first defendant to feel the stun belt’s jolt in a Los Angeles County courtroom.
For more than two years, deputies have strapped the belts on defendants who are considered dangerous or a flight risk. Transcripts show that court officials believed Hawkins should be fitted with the belt because of alleged disciplinary problems while in jail.
Hawkins was convicted during a three-strikes trial in April of felony counts of “petty theft with a prior” and burglary for stealing $265 worth of painkillers from a Long Beach market. In the last 27 years, he has been convicted of robbery three times, as well as assault with intent to commit robbery, attempted robbery, possession of cocaine and “petty theft with a prior,” court documents show.
Yagman said attorney Richard Millard and retired U.S. Judge Joseph Reichmann will defend Hawkins in his criminal case.