By Kent Gray
Triplicate staff writer
A Del Norte County courtroom erupted into pandemonium yesterday afternoon when a Pelican Bay State Prison inmate picked the lock on his handcuffs and attempted to stab Crescent City attorney Leroy Davies.
"It happened so fast. He had just come back in when it happened. It caught me totally off guard," said Benita Cabrera, who was in the court when the stabbing occurred.
Davies, who represents many inmates from the prison, escaped injury when the weapon was blocked by a large pen he had in his shirt pocket.
The weapon used in the attack was homemade, similar to an icepick, observers said. Just how the inmate was able to smuggle it into the court is unknown.
The incident occurred at 3:40 p.m. when the inmate, Phillip Evans, was being escorted into court by California Department of Corrections officers after a recess.
He was being secured to his seat when he lunged at Davies, according to witnesses.
Lieutenant Frank Vanderhooven with Pelican Bay told Judge Robert Weir that Evans managed to pick the lock of his handcuffs with "a small piece of metal hidden in an orifice of his body," he said.
After the attack, Evans was quickly subdued by five correctional officers as shocked witnesses poured out of the courtroom into the corridor.
"I still haven't caught my breath yet," said one witness as she held her hand over her chest. An officer quickly closed the door and instructed people in the corridor to stay out of the courtroom until Evans could be removed.
When people finally returned to the courtroom to conclude what would have been a hearing for the inmate, there was a clear uneasiness.
Davies smiled after the incident and appeared to be only slightly shaken while investigators hurriedly took photographs of the hole in his shirt.
"The defendant tried to stab Mr. Davies with an ice-pick stabbing-type weapon?" asked Judge Robert Weir, who did not witness the incident.
Vanderhooven replied, "Mr. Evans was able to get one of his hands free and was able to stab Mr. Davies with a metal object ... an ink pen was struck and appears to have absorbed the impact from the attack."
Davies, who declined comment after leaving the courthouse yesterday, told Weir he was reluctant to continue with Evans' case but did not want to hamper his future defense.
"I wouldn't want Mr. Evans to claim that I didn't work with his best interest or best efforts on his behalf, in spite of the incident," Davies said.
"Well, do I have any takers?" Weir asked out loud to the court, which erupted into a nervous laughter. A representative of attorney Russ Clanton said they would be willing to take Evans as a client.
It was officially requested by the Department of Corrections to Weir that Evans return to court only in a ¬Ďblack box' in the future, which is a more secure form of shackling. Davies said Evans would be entitled to a hearing on that.
Pelican Bay's public information officer Janet Kasbohm, who said she could not comment on the details of the incident until witnesses were interviewed, said Evans is currently being held for assault on a prisoner.
Evans is scheduled to return to court at 1 p.m. Feb. 27 with substitute counsel.