A judge angered by a defendant's interruptions at a sentencing hearing ordered him zapped with 50,000 volts of electricity from a controversial stun belt.
The incident last week was the first time a defendant had been shocked by a stun belt since Los Angeles County began using them three years ago, Deputy Steve Wheatcroft said Thursday. The devices are powered by batteries and deliver an eight-second current to an area near the left kidney.They are designed to restrain violent defendants and those considered escape risks. "It will make your body tense up real good, and it will drop some people to their knees," Wheatcroft said.
Ronnie Hawkins, 48, was acting as his own attorney at his sentencing hearing when Municipal Court Judge Joan Comparet-Cassani grew angry with Hawkins' constant talking. She ordered her bailiff to activate the stun belt that had been fitted under Hawkins' jail jumpsuit.
Hawkins was facing 25 years to life in prison after his petty theft conviction. Because he had two prior felony convictions, his latest crime was classified as a felony under "three-strikes" sentencing guidelines.
His sentencing was postponed until July 29 because Hawkins said he needed to recover from the jolt. Three bystanders in the courtroom complained, including Matthew Huey, a deputy public defender.
"He made no aggressive movement toward anyone, he was not a threat," Huey said. "He was already chained and shackled."
More than 15 states and 100 counties across the country strap inmates into the REACT stun belt, according to manufacturer StunTech Inc. of Cleveland, which said it had been used 27 times without causing physical injury.
The human-rights group Amnesty International opposes the stun belt, saying it poses a risk to people with heart ailments and could be used as an instrument of torture.
Mike Concha, a supervisor in the public defender's Long Beach office, said he had spoken to the judge.
"She was concerned for the welfare of the client," Concha said, adding that the judge said she would reconsider using the stun belt again.
The judge declined to comment to reporters Thursday.