For more than six years, court reporter Jurtiana Jeon arrived at work mostly without incident, setting up a small, portable desk beneath the judge’s bench before transcribing the day’s proceedings on her computer.
But matters took an unexpected turn Jan. 12 in D.C. Superior Court’s Courtroom 48. Jeon watched in fear as a man became irate during a hearing and lunged at her. She was beaten as she lay in a fetal position, arms covering her face.
She called for help, she later said, as the judge, courtroom clerk and the man’s attorney fled the room. “I was screaming bloody murder at the top of my lungs hoping someone would come to my aid,” Jeon, 31, recently told a judge.
Aaron Riddick, 24, pleaded guilty to assaulting Jeon and a courtroom security officer and late last week was sentenced to 360 days in jail with all but 120 days suspended. He will also have to have mental-health treatment upon release. But Jeon has yet to return to work, and many of her colleagues say they fear for their own safety.
“Mr. Riddick has taken away my security and trust in people,” Jeon said at his sentencing. A security officer called the attack a “vicious, unprovoked beating.”
Attacks on court reporters are rare. Court officials could recall no others in the D.C. courthouse, according to D.C. Superior Court spokeswoman Leah Gurowitz.
In 2005, a court reporter, judge and two other people were killed in an Atlanta area courtroom after a defendant wrested a gun from a deputy and began shooting. Riddick’s assault was the most serious attack on a court reporter in a courtroom since then, according to the Vienna-based National Court Reporters Association.
Gurowitz declined to comment on the attack on Jeon, saying the case is still pending.
“On the rare occasion when something happens in one of our buildings — human behavior being difficult to predict — we do a thorough assessment and offer support services to those affected,” Gurowitz said in an e-mail.
Several court reporters say the court offered counseling after Jeon was attacked. And the courthouse recently enhanced its security measures, installing more sensitive metal detectors at its entrances.
But metal detectors wouldn’t have prevented the attack on Jeon, which happened two blocks from the main courthouse in a facility called Building A, where often-heated probate, landlord-tenant and civil cases are heard.
About 40 court reporters work in the courthouse, and some say they would like to see more security officers in courtrooms beyond the main building. The armed federal marshals who work in the main courthouse, where criminal trials are heard, generally work elsewhere only when requested.
“Many of those people over there have mental issues and are just as dangerous as the defendants in the main courthouse,” said one court reporter in Building A, who requested anonymity to protect the reporters’ jobs.
“There is no one over there to protect us,” said another court reporter, who also requested anonymity. “We saw that, didn’t we?”
The attack on Jeon lasted about 15 seconds. According to court records and testimony, the hearing was being held because the city wanted to appoint a guardian for Riddick — paranoid schizophrenia was diagnosed when he was a teenager — which could have resulted in him being taken from his mother.
Riddick stood next to his attorney. As the hearing progressed, according to testimony and court records, Riddick’s mother, Brenda Riddick, began arguing with Judge Rhonda Reid Winston.
A courtroom worker called for a security officer, who tried to calm the situation. Aaron Riddick became angry and swung at the officer, Jonathan Coleman, hitting him in the head. Seconds later, Coleman and Jeon testified, Riddick lunged at the 5-foot, 100-pound Jeon.
“He went from zero to 60 in 10 seconds,” Coleman testified at Riddick’s sentencing.
“He had pure rage in his eyes,” Jeon said.
As Jeon screamed while being attacked, Riddick was grabbed by his health aide and Coleman, according to court documents.
Feeling numb on her left side, Jeon would later tell Judge Juliet McKenna at Riddick’s sentencing, she made her way behind the judge’s bench.
Winston and the clerk had fled through a nearby door, following U.S. Marshals Service protocol. Coleman, with the aide’s help, subdued Riddick, according to testimony and court papers.
Jason said her computer sustained about $700 in damage in the attack.
She said she is seeing a doctor and a therapist and has hired a lawyer. She declined to comment in detail about her plans but said she does not feel safe in a courtroom.
“He didn’t do this on the street,” Jeon said. “He did this right in court under the watchful eyes of a judge.”