Judge Apologizes for Having Defendant’s Mouth Taped Shut in Viral Video: I Had to 'Take Control'
Judge John Russo apologized on Monday for having deputies duct-tape Franklyn Williams' mouth shut during a sentencing hearing last month
An Ohio judge apologized on Monday for having a man’s mouth duct-taped at a July sentencing hearing, and has taken himself off the case after footage of the incident sparked outrage online.
Judge John J. Russo, of Cuyahoga County common pleas court, said that he regrets ordering five deputies to put red tape on 32-year-old Franklyn Williams’ mouth at the July 31 hearing. The tape was applied after Williams apparently had several outbursts during court proceedings, ABC News reported. The Ohio Supreme Court will now appoint a new judge to sentence Williams, according to the outlet.
“In retrospect, while there is legal precedent for gagging a defendant to keep order in a court, I apologize for taking that action last week,” Russo said in a statement to the court, according to WEWS.
“My decision to end your outburst came after I had exhausted every other attempt to restore order to a hearing you continuously impeded. Despite many warnings for you to stop your frequent and offensive outbursts — I believe it was over 60 interruptions in 54 minutes — you continued to interrupt and hinder the legal procedures of the court, procedures that are designed to protect your rights, the rights of your victims and the justice system,” Russo reportedly continued. “It escalated to the point that, that as a judge, it was my responsibility to take control of the hearing.”
Russo had sentenced Williams to 24 years in prison on charges including robbery, aggravated robbery and kidnapping. At last week’s hearing, Williams could be heard telling the judge that he had only recently met his attorney, and that he didn’t understand why a trio of prosecutors had taken items from his jail cell. A frustrated Russo told Williams in video footage of the incident —published by WJW — “Shut your mouth!” And, when Williams continued to speak, Russo said, “That means zip it right now. Does that make sense?”
After more back and forth, Russo ordered deputies to tape the man’s mouth shut. In WJW’s footage, a group of officers can be seen surrounding Williams, and one placed a strip of tape over his mouth. Photos from the incident showed a second piece of tape also on Williams’ mouth.
PEOPLE’s request for comment from Russo’s office was not immediately returned. Williams’ public defenders Jack Greene and Frank Cavallo also did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
As Williams left the courtroom on Monday, following Russo’s statement, he yelled, “Freedom of speech. Duct tape. Hashtag,” according to WEWS.
Russo’s apology come after social media users and activists condemned his actions. Officials with the Cleveland chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said in a tweet that they are “outraged by Judge Russo’s lack of decency when he ordered Franklyn Williams mouth duct taped.”
They added: “A dog owner that taped his pets mouth got 5 years. This is NOT ok.”
The footage also caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, with officials tweeting: “We cannot regard this as normal. It is humiliating. It doesn’t just deprive this person of the opportunity to speak before his life is taken away, it steals his dignity. Everything about this is wrong.”
As Russo noted in his address, there is a precedent for allowing a defendant to be gagged in court. In 1969, a judge ordered that activist Bobby Seale, a leader of the Black Panther Party, be chained to his chair and gagged, according to the Constitutional Rights Foundation. Seale had been accused of planning to travel with the intent to protest.