Court Security

Officials Say Murder Defendant Slashed His Lawyer's Face; Court Attack Was 2nd in County in 1 Week

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A defendant in a California murder trial won a mistrial but faces a new attempted murder case after allegedly slashing his lawyer’s face with a makeshift weapon as the jury entered a Tulare County courtroom around 10 a.m. on Monday.

Sheriff’s officials said assistant public defender John Shepard was not seriously injured in the attack by his client, Rafael Mendoza, several weeks into his jury trial in the stabbing death of a 25-year-old woman, Juliana Bravo. It was reportedly the second attack on a county official by a defendant in custody in a Tulare County courtroom in less than a week; the other one was unrelated to Mendoza or his case, according to the Fresno Bee and the Visalia Times-Delta.

A courtroom bailiff, along with Tulare police officers who were in the courtroom, detained Mendoza and gave first aid to Shepard, who was later treated and released from a local hospital. The defendant is now expected to face new charges, including attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, possession or manufacture of a deadly weapon by an inmate of a penal institution and a deadly or dangerous weapon charge to inflict injury or death.

The previous Wednesday, in another Tulare County Superior Court case, a former county sheriff’s deputy who had been found guilty of child molestation reportedly lunged past his lawyer and went for the lead detective in the case, grabbing her and reaching for her service weapon as the verdict was being read, according to the Porterville Recorder.

Bailiffs used an electric stun gun on Michael Risenhoover, who was then taken from the courtroom and later returned to hear the rest of the verdict. The detective was not seriously injured in the incident, which occurred in Judge Gerald Sevier’s courtroom. Risenhoover, who has not yet been sentenced, faces new charges as a result of the alleged court attack, KFSN reported at the time.

“The safety of everyone in the courtroom is obviously a concern,” said Assistant District Attorney Shani Jenkins of such attacks. “It doesn’t happen often. We’re extremely concerned it happened.”

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