A 58-year-old mentally ill defendant suddenly attacked his public defender in Pulaski County circuit court Tuesday then tried to bite one of the bailiffs who went to attorney Tim Boozer's rescue.
No one was injured in the momentary fracas in Judge Chris Piazza's courtroom. Barry Lamont Johnson of North Little Rock was sitting with his hands cuffed and his feet shackled with Boozer, his court-appointed attorney, leaning over to talk to him about his case.
The scene appeared cordial although Johnson seemed to be scowling. He then suddenly attacked, shouting obscenities as he lunged, head-butting Boozer in the shoulder and knocking him to the side while Johnson fell to the floor.
Bailiffs Ronny Smith and Kirk Knight quickly subdued the wriggling and shouting man -- although Johnson snapped his teeth at Knight, coming so close that some spectators thought Knight had been bitten. The bailiffs then carried the shouting Johnson out of the courtroom feet first and back to a holding cell. He was not returned to court.
Boozer brushed off the incident and went back to work. He followed the bailiffs to help get Johnson calmed down then returned to the court to meet with his other clients. The judge ordered a mental evaluation for Johnson at Boozer's request. He said Johnson has "mental issues."
"I think the court saw that in action," he said.
Johnson has been in custody since a Dec. 9 arrest over accusations that he cashed a forged check a year earlier in North Little Rock. He was making his first appearance in circuit court on the Class C felony charge.
Court records show that state doctors first diagnosed him with schizophrenia, combining with decades-long drug and alcohol addiction, in November 2011.
Johnson had been court-ordered into the State Hospital after his October 2010 arrest for a break-in at a West Capitol Avenue restaurant in Little Rock. He spent about six months in the State Hospital before doctors reached their diagnosis.
They also deemed him fit to stand trial, despite his mental illness, and he pleaded no contest to commercial burglary in December 2011 in exchange for a sentence of five years on probation, conditioned on him getting treatment for his substance abuse and mental problems.
Eight months later, Johnson was arrested again, this time in Little Rock for a car burglary. He was examined again at the State Hospital with doctors reporting that he appeared "actively psychotic" with his thought process "loose to disorganized" while rambling about numerous conspiracies against him, court records show.
Again deemed unfit for trial, he was again committed to the hospital for examination and treatment where he spent about six months before doctors concluded he was fit to stand trial.
He subsequently pleaded guilty to breaking or entering in September 2013 in exchange for a three-year prison sentence.
Court records show that Johnson spent 13 years in prison for his role in a 1992 armed robbery that ended with the victim shot to death.
Johnson, then 32, and Charles Lee, then 19, were charged with capital murder in the slaying of 23-year-old Phillip Cordova during a late-night robbery that both prosecution and defense described as a drug deal that went awry in a parking lot at Roosevelt Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.
Lee's fingerprints and a palm print were found on Cordova's pickup. He was identified by a witness and another co-defendant as the gunman and was convicted at trial of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Johnson was cleared of capital murder at his own trial but found guilty of aggravated robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
When he was 27 in July 1986, Johnson was arrested on rape, kidnapping and theft charges, accused of being the tuxedoed attacker who sexually assaulted a woman in southwest Little Rock.
The rapist was described as wearing a full tux with red bow tie, matching cummerbund and a white top hat. The 35-year-old woman said the man had sexually propositioned her earlier while she was at a Cloverdale Road self-service laundry.
A short time later, while she was walking west on Base Line Road, the same man pulled up beside her in a car and pulled a gun to make her get into the vehicle.
Johnson was arrested about seven hours later, driving a car that had been stolen from the Little Rock police impound lot and police reported finding a sack containing a tuxedo in the car. The charges were eventually dropped, but it was not immediately clear why on Tuesday.
Metro on 02/14/2018
Print Headline: Defendant removed from court after attacking his lawyer