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Psychiatric testing ordered for Sterner

Brian Sterner waits for his attorney Tuesday outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse Annex.

Chris Zuppa | Times

Brian Sterner waits for his attorney Tuesday outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse Annex.

TAMPA — The hearing was supposed to be a routine matter in a criminal traffic case.

But not much has been routine about Brian Sterner's case, and the Tuesday morning hearing proved to be no exception.

A Hillsborough judge ordered that Sterner, a 32-year-old quadriplegic who garnered national attention after a video showed a detention deputy dumping him from his wheelchair, must undergo a psychiatric evaluation by two doctors.

The most recent wrinkle in the wheelchair-dumping saga came after Sterner said earlier this month that he wanted to fire his attorney, John Trevena, and hire another lawyer, Michael Maddux.

At Tuesday's hearing, Trevena gave documents relating to the issue of Sterner's competency to Circuit Judge Robert Foster.

Trevena declined to comment on the case, and the documents are currently not available to the public, although that could change after a Thursday hearing on the matter.

During the brief hearing, Maddux said Sterner had already been evaluated by an expert. The judge said that evaluation, too, will be taken into consideration.

After the brief hearing, Sterner spoke in the hallway outside the courtroom. He said he wished he could have spoken in court and that he could have told the judge "that I'm completely competent."

He said he already passed a psychiatric evaluation "with flying colors." Sterner said he didn't know what documents Trevena presented to the judge.

Of Trevena's actions, Sterner said, "I think it's pathetic." He said he didn't think Trevena was doing enough to help his case.

"Mr. Trevena was too busy socializing and conversing," he said. "He wasn't doing his job."

He declined to elaborate.

Deputies arrested Sterner Jan. 29 on a charge of fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer, jail records show.

Sterner's story first gained attention Feb. 11, when a video from the Orient Road Jail's central booking showed detention Deputy Charlette Marshall-Jones dumping Sterner from his wheelchair.

Sheriff David Gee publicly apologized for Sterner's treatment, and Marshall-Jones resigned. She was arrested Feb. 16, accused of abuse of a disabled person.

Since then, six other former Orient Road Jail inmates have come forward with claims of abuse, and an independent commission of experts is reviewing the Hillsborough County jail.

At their March 21 meeting, commission members are scheduled to hear about complaints of employee misconduct, inmate grievances and jail staff training on the use of force.

Abbie VanSickle can be reached at vansickle@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

Psychiatric testing ordered for Sterner 03/18/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 19, 2008 8:16pm]
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