Charles County authorities are investigating an incident in which a retired Circuit Court judge ordered that a unruly defendant be given an electric shock during a court proceeding last month.
Paul B. DeWolfe Jr., who heads the state Office of the Public Defender, called Friday for the judge to be banned from hearing cases.
"What the judge did here was unconscionable," DeWolfe said in a statement. "The infliction of physical pain to silence a person is unacceptable anywhere, but especially when it is done in a court of law at the direction of the very person whose job it is to protect people's rights."
Diane Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Charles County sheriff's office, said a court security officer activated a defendant's stun cuff when ordered by Judge Robert C. Nalley.
"Mr. Sheriff, do it," Nalley said to the officer, according to a transcript of the late July hearing. "Use it."
The transcript does not describe what happened next, except to note in all-capital letters: "DEFENDANT SCREAMS."
"This is the first time one's ever been activated in the courtroom," Jackson said of the stun cuffs, which can be attached to an arm or leg of a defendant and are capable of delivering an electric shock.
Jackson declined to comment on details of the case, citing an ongoing investigation.
The incident occurred as Nalley was presiding over the beginning of jury selection for 25-year-old Delvon King in a gun case. King, who DeWolfe said identified himself as a Moorish American who rejects the authority of the court system, was talking over the judge, according to a transcript of the hearing.
As the cross-talking continued, the judge twice told King to stop. King kept talking.
At that point Nalley ordered that the stun cuff be activated. He then called for a short recess. "I'm going to take five and then I'll be back," Nalley said. "Wait until he calms down and I'll be back."
The case continued, and King was found guilty by a jury. He is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
Neither Nalley nor a spokeswoman for the judiciary could be reached for comment.
Some Moorish Americans believe they have roots in America predating the creation of the United States, or that a 1787 treaty with Morocco gives them special rights. The result, they argue, is the same: U.S. courts have no authority over them.
Followers of the idea are often disruptive when their cases go to trial, sometimes making quasi-legal arguments and sometimes refusing to participate in proceedings at all. Last year, a defendant in Baltimore murder case who had adopted aspects of this position was not present through his trial because a judge decided it was too dangerous to force him into the courtroom.
King, a Waldorf resident who represented himself in court, had adopted the name Saamir Jhaleed Khaleel Kingali and described himself to the judge as a "Moorish American aboriginal indigenous man."
DeWolfe said in an interview that members of his office who had had interactions with King did not find him physically threatening and questioned the need for a stun cuff, which he said should be reserved for the most dangerous defendants.
"This gentleman, while disruptive verbally … was never physically disruptive," DeWolfe said.
The devices are considered a way for courts to maintain control of defendants without shackling them, which courts have ruled can prejudice a jury, according to a company that markets the cuffs.
The company advertises models that can deliver a 50,000-volt shock and are operated by remote control. It calls them "non-lethal wireless prisoner control." No information was available regarding the level of shock that King received.
Other jurisdictions also use the stun cuffs. The Carroll County Detention Center, for instance, said in its 2012 annual report that it used them when transporting violent inmates.
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"This piece of equipment serves as an effective detriment for escape," the report says.
In recent years, Maryland has tightened its regulation of law enforcement use of stun weapons, and a 2009 law required additional training for police and corrections officers who use them. The training must include a section on "proper electronic control device use."
Nalley has courted controversy before. In 2010, he agreed to be a five-day suspension from the bench imposed by the state's top court after deflating the tires of someone parked in the courthouse lot. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor over the incident, receiving a fine and probation before judgment.
The judge retired in 2013 but has continued to sit at the request of the judiciary, according to DeWolfe.
Baltimore Sun reporter Timothy B. Wheeler contributed to this article.