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Witnesses dispute sheriff’s officials’ account of court spokeswoman’s detention

A Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman wearing several identification badges was grabbed by a sheriff’s deputy in a downtown L.A. courtroom and pushed hard against a wall with her arms pulled behind her before being handcuffed, according to eyewitnesses.

Sheriff’s officials have launched an internal affairs investigation into why the deputy detained and handcuffed Vania Stuelp, a deputy public information officer. Stuelp, who sought medical treatment after the incident, has filed a complaint about the deputy’s actions, sources said.

Sheriff’s officials say that Stuelp was detained Tuesday after she refused to follow the deputy’s instructions and leave an area in the courtroom usually occupied by lawyers. Stuelp was not arrested and court was not in session at the time.

Accounts by a French journalist and cameraman present at the time of the incident differ from sheriff’s officials’ statements based on the agency’s preliminary investigation. Sheriff’s officials say Stuelp was not pushed against the wall and that the deputy only touched her on the arm before handcuffing her.

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The incident occurred shortly before 9 a.m. when Stuelp became concerned that the French television crew was violating court regulations that prohibit filming in certain areas. Stuelp informed the crew members that they could not film in the courtroom and asked for their footage.

Sylvain Pak, a Paris-based journalist, said Stuelp was inside the courtroom and talking on her cellphone when the deputy told her to be quiet and move out. He said Stuelp was wearing several court identification cards and told the deputy that she worked there. Pak said the deputy responded by grabbing her arm. “He grabbed her and he pushed her hard into the wall,” Pak said.

The deputy also was pulling her arms behind her back so she could not brace herself, the journalist said. A cameraman who accompanied Pak gave a similar account of what happened. But Steve Whitmore, a sheriff’s spokesman, said a deputy district attorney objected to Stuelp’s presence when she entered the well area of the courtroom. Stuelp insisted that she had the right to be there, so the prosecutor said he asked the deputy, who was acting as a bailiff, to deal with the issue.

Stuelp repeatedly refused to leave, and the deputy then “put his hand on her arm to escort her out,” Whitmore said. At that point, she was detained and handcuffed, he said.

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A sheriff’s sergeant arrived and recognized Stuelp as a court spokeswoman and directed that she be released, Whitmore said

richard.winton@latimes.com


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