The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

January 5, 2012

Suspect has mouth taped shut in court

EBENSBURG —  A Johnstown man who was scheduled to go on trial for assaulting a prison guard became so disruptive during jury selection on Thursday that the judge had the man’s mouth briefly taped shut and his hands handcuffed to a belt around his waist.

But Erik Britt continued to attempt to mouth words and interrupt proceedings.

Judge Timothy Creany finally called off any attempt to choose a jury. Creany continued the case until March and ordered a mental-health exam of the defendant.

While Britt continued to shout about his rights being violated, deputies took him out a rear door of the courtroom.

As he was being taken out the front door of the courthouse, he kicked out a lower panel on one of the inner front doors, Sheriff Bob Kolar said.

Britt, 27, son of former Johnstown Councilman Leonard “Benny” Britt, is charged with punching and elbowing a corrections officer when he was returned to the county prison on May 4 from a magistrate’s hearing, Assistant District Attorney Gary Jubas said.

In an unrelated case, Britt also is awaiting trial on theft and receiving stolen property for allegedly stealing his father’s car on April 16, Jubas said.

From the time the panel of about 40 potential jurors entered the courtroom, Britt became unruly and disruptive.

The defendant complained loudly about only white people being on the panel. He lashed out about deputies being racist.

“Nobody else is black. This is embarrassing to me and my country,” Britt said.

Twice, the judge had the potential jurors taken out of the courtroom as he attempted to get Britt to be quiet and orderly during the jury selection.

Britt, who was acting as his own attorney, said at times, “You’re hindering my freedom of speech.”

When the panel again was taken out, one of the deputies wrapped a heavy, red tape across Britt’s mouth and around his head. But that still didn’t silence him as he continued to mouth loud noises through the tape.

Finally, Creany sent the prospective jurors out again and ordered the deputies, “Remove him from the courtroom and take him back to the prison.”

As the startled potential jurors were brought back into the courtroom to be dismissed, the judge told them, “Mr. Britt and I don’t see eye to eye on how to proceed. This case has been continued since last May, and certainly, he has a right to his day in court. But I was unable to get him to cooperate. I felt it was prudent to end the proceedings because his conduct made it difficult for a jury to look favorably on his case.”

Neither Jubas nor Johnstown attorney Art McQuillen – who was standby legal counsel for Britt – objected. They agreed that the judge has the right to control the proceedings.

Kolar said afterward that there have been a few similar instances, but it’s “very infrequent when we have to tape defendants’ mouths or handcuff them in the courtroom.”

The sheriff said that Britt will be charged with criminal mischief for kicking the door and with terroristic threats and disorderly conduct for threatening deputies.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • foust_25 Teen shot in Oakhurst

    A 16-year-old New Jersey boy was taken to Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center on Thursday after being shot three times in the Oakhurst section of Johnstown.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Audit: City overspent by $700G in 2013

    Legacy costs contributed significantly to the city of Johnstown coming up $689,000 short in its core services funding during 2013.

    July 24, 2014

  • Kuzma, jonathan Guilty plea in hammer death

    The Johnstown man who authorities said killed his father with a hammer last year pleaded guilty Wednesday to criminal homicide, authorities said.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • quecreek rescue Events to mark anniversary of Quecreek rescue

    When word spread that nine Quecreek miners were trapped underground in July 2002, Bill Arnold’s dairy farm quickly became the rescue effort’s ground zero.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Huger, Stephen Accused Hornerstown shooter will stand trial

    A Johnstown man will stand trial in connection with a July 12 shooting in the Hornerstown section of the city.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tribune Treasure!

    July 24, 2014

  • Board names Zahorchak’s successor

    The Greater Johnstown school board at a special meeting Thursday named a superintendent to replace the retiring superintendent, rehired its last business manager and approved other administrative appointments.

    July 24, 2014

  • Pasquerilla, Mark Pasquerilla recognized as arts patron

    First lady Susan Corbett announced Thursday from the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pa., that Mark Pasquerilla of Johnstown has earned the Patron Award from the 2014 Governor’s Awards for the Arts.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ebensburg gets ready to party

    Party down with a shutdown.
    Downtown Shutdown, a street party featuring music and food, will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday in downtown Ebensburg.

    July 24, 2014

  • ROTARY Local Rotary Club earns recognition

    The Rotary Club of Johnstown was named Outstanding Large Club of the Year in District 7330, which serves 42 Rotary Clubs in seven counties in southwest Pennsylvania, at the Rotary District 7330 and District 7300 Joint Conference that was held June 26 through 29 at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

    July 24, 2014 1 Photo


What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
House Ads