Man attacks bailiff, punches Houston judge in fit of courtroom rage – Houston Chronicle

Joseph Catarineau appeared in the 182nd District Court Tuesday for a routine hearing related to fraud charges — a relatively low-level, non-violent crime.

But when he was denied bail, Catarineau attacked a courtroom bailiff, witnesses said, throwing the proceedings into chaos — and prompting Judge Danny Lacayo to rush from the bench to subdue him.

The fracas occurred about 9:30 a.m., shortly after Catarineau arrived in court. Catarineau, 58, was charged in 2018 with saying falsely on financial statements — over a wage dispute — that he’d worked for American Airlines and Envoy Air and the businesses owed him money.

Court records show Catarineau worked as a pilot for Envoy Air until he was fired in 2017 for “erratic behavior.” He claimed he was a “sovereign citizen” and did not have to pay income taxes to the federal government. He ran afoul of the law after filing a $37 million lien against American Airlines in 2019 in which he claimed to have provided labor, materials, and services on 50 airplanes, despite the fact that as a pilot, he did not do any of those things. Months later, he filed a similar lien, citing services on dozens of other aircraft — which was also groundless, according to the records.

According to courtroom witnesses, the trouble began shortly after Lacayo asked Catarineau if he wanted to hire an attorney. (Court records show Catarineau’s lawyer, David Kiatta, asked Lacayo on Dec. 13 for permission to withdraw from the case.)

Catarineau began mouthing off to Lacayo, said Daniel Glasscock, who was in the courtroom for his own case.

Lacayo ordered Catarineau held without bond, and ordered a deputy serving as a bailiff to take him into custody. Catarineau grabbed the deputy’s ponytail and yanked her to the ground and began punching her, witnesses said.

“You can’t even see this s—t in CourtTV,” Glasscock said. “I was stunned.”

Jacob Salinas, a rookie prosecutor who works in the 182nd, rushed to intervene and began scuffling with Catarineau as Lacayo ran down from the bench to help.

“He was just wailing on her,” he said. “So I tried to jump in.”

A former lineman on his college football team, Salinas — along with Lacayo — tackled Catarineau. The deputy pulled out a Taser, at which point the defendant broke away from the two and knocked the Taser out of her hand and then started trading blows with Salinas and Lacayo. He was focused on making sure Catarineau didn’t get control of the deputy’s stungun or sidearm, he said.

As the prosecutor and Lacayo subdued Catarineau, the deputy shot the defendant with her stungun, Salinas said. Because they were holding him down to the floor, the charge ended up shocking them as well, he said.

It is the second time Lacayo has been attacked by or tangled with a criminal defendant. In 2018, while still working as a public defender, Lacayo was attacked during a courthouse meeting by a man he was representing. The man was found not competent to stand trial in 2019 and, earlier this year, ordered committed to a mental hospital.

Catarineau will likely face three counts of assault of a public servant, said Sean Teare, a senior Harris County prosecutor.

“The bottom line is that I’m not going to let a deputy get beat up in front of me,” said Lacayo, who was elected judge in 2018.

“Any time that violence erupts in a courtroom, it’s an unexpected and terrifying thing for everyone involved,” said Teare.

“I’m very proud of the prosecutor’s quick reaction and glad no one was seriously injured. This type of behavior won’t be tolerated and we plan to prosecute this individual for every crime he committed today.”

The disturbance left the courtroom briefly paralyzed, as prosecutors and other bailiffs rushed to help.

“I was kind of in shock,” said April Hatch, in the courtroom for her own case. “I was surprised someone would be that stupid.”

A representative of the Harris County Deputies’ Organization said the incident comes as staffing at the courthouse has become increasingly short, forcing the sheriff’s office to move a dozen deputies from patrol into bailiff positions.

“It sounds like the situation got wildly out of control,” said Robin Foster, an attorney with the Harris County Deputies’ Organization. “But what we’re seeing is an increase in assaults in jail, and seeing it spill over to court isn’t surprising.”

s[email protected]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Previous post Park Twp. kayak park officially named South Shore Landing –
Next post Magnolia ISD ends policy previously requiring boys to have short hair – Houston Public Media