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Unrestrained teen strikes stepfather in front of judge

TAMPA — An unrestrained 16-year-old attacked his stepfather at a detention hearing Thursday morning, just a few months after a state Supreme Court ruling ended the practice of shackling juveniles in courtrooms.

The teen was charged Wednesday with battery on his pregnant mother, Tampa police reported. He pushed her with both hands, causing her to fall, after she confronted him about poor behavior at school, police said.

On Thursday, he appeared unrestrained before Judge Ralph Stoddard at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

During the hearing, the teen's stepfather was standing in front of the judge answering questions when the teen jumped up, said Lt. Robert Simpson of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office court operations division.

"It didn't appear the juvenile liked the answers the stepfather was giving the judge and he lunged at him and struck him, causing the stepfather to fall to the ground," Simpson said.

Bailiffs stepped in and no one was injured, he said. The teen received an additional misdemeanor battery charge. And when he reappeared to finish the hearing, deputies had him in restraints, Simpson said.

Since Jan. 1, the use of handcuffs and chains in juvenile court has been prohibited unless a judge thinks there is a flight risk or other potential danger.

Judges use a point system to determine whether the restraints are needed, Stoddard said.

"As I recall, this fellow didn't score enough to merit restraints," the judge said.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show no prior arrests for the teen.

The Times is not identifying him because of his age.

The stepfather, Clifton Holder Sr., did time in state prison for burglary and three counts of lewd and lascivious acts on a child, state records show. He is a registered sex offender.

Holder, reached by telephone, said he didn't know why the teen attacked him.

Despite Thursday's incident, Stoddard said the new ruling is welcome in his courtroom.

"Some of the juveniles are as young as 10 or 11 and some are pretty-good-sized high school football players who are 17 years old," he said. "Regardless, I am always willing to give someone the benefit of the doubt."

Judge Ashley Moody, who also works in the juvenile division, said restraints were a way to protect court staff and the children.

"In my experience, they do have a tendency to act out aggressively without thinking through the consequences of their actions," she said. "While it doesn't happen often, it does happen."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 226-3374 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

Unrestrained teen strikes stepfather in front of judge 04/08/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 8, 2010 10:44pm]
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