BOISE -- In an Ada County courtroom last month, unusual chaos erupted as a convicted inmate became violent and lunged at a deputy prosecutor.
By nature, officers say criminals can pose a threat to people in a courtroom, but officers say rarely do things get out of hand to the degree they did on Oct. 12, 2012. In this instance, everyone in the room saw, even with precautions like handcuffs in place, things can escalate fast.
The defendant, Thomas Lott, was in court to be sentenced for destruction of jail property. Prosecutors say he threw a chair through a jail window after being arrested for public intoxication.
"You're just a behavioral problem," Judge Darla Williamson told Lott before sentencing him. "You are 46 years old, and for the past 20 years, it looks like you have just been a behavioral problem and you're not changing."
Prosecutors wanted straight prison time, defense attorneys wanted less incarceration time for Lott: A "rider," which is an alternative prison program that would ultimately likely mean probation.
Judge Williamson was ready to agree with the recommendation of the defense, but before she signed the papers, Lott said something profane to the deputy prosecutor. Ada County Sheriff's Deputy Billy Fikes overheard the comment, and just as he was about to confirm what he heard, Lott lunged across the defense table toward the prosecutor, scattering papers.
In less than two seconds, Fikes took Lott to the ground, and deputies from around the courthouse converged as the other deputy called for backup. KTVB asked Fikes what he was thinking about in the moment.
"I really wasn't," Fikes said. "I realized what he was doing, and I just reacted so I knew he was going after [the prosecutor], so I had to take him down."
"I was a little astonished that he would go from 0 to 60 so fast," Ada County Prosecutor Greg Bower said of seeing the video. "It didn't catch the sheriff's people off guard, but I think it caught counsel for both sides off guard.
Once Lott was subdued, the drama did not stop. He began cursing almost non-stop for several minutes, directing his rage toward Judge Williamson. She decided to continue with court. In fact, Judge Williamson told Fikes and others to bring Lott back inside so she could give a new sentence.
"The court is not going to give him a retained jurisdiction based on his behavior and imposes sentence of two years fixed plus three determinate to the penitentiary," Williamson said.
"A rider requires the absolute cooperation and focus of a criminal defendant," Bower said. "Mr. Lott demonstrated in his behavior that his ability to control his behavior needs a lot of work."
Deputy Fikes had not seen the video until KTVB showed him, but watching it, the towering, former BSU basketball forward can say exactly what happened, and how he anticipated trouble.
"With your training you look for slight keys, and if you look at the video, you actually see that I have my hand on him, and I felt his body tense up, and once I felt that, I knew something was going to happen," Fikes said. "I didn't know what, but I knew something was going to happen.' Because he wasn't happy and I knew he was turning and going back towards the prosecuting attorney, and as he turned, I just let his momentum carry him and I took him down to the ground."
In the end, no one was hurt, but the chaos in the courtroom reminded everyone that dealing with defendants can be dangerous.
"No matter what restraints you have on a person, they can always be dangerous. That's why you have to be prepared at all times," Fikes said.
Deputy Fikes says he has training specific to courtroom situations and bringing inmates between court and jail. He says another tool that keeps everyone safe is the way inmates are classified based on past behavior or potential threats. He says there are at least two deputies with an inmate and others nearby, ready to go in an emergency.
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