SAN FERNANDO — A 39-year-old Pacoima burglar who had just heard a jury find him guilty of a third-strike offense punched a bailiff in the face and tried to escape from the courthouse Tuesday.
The bailiff and three Los Angeles Police Department officers who happened to be on hand helped subdue Steve Silvas before he could get away.
"Everybody was shocked and startled," said Alisanne Scolnick, the deputy district attorney handling the case. "I've seen defendants stand up in court--but never attempt to escape."
Silvas faced a sentence of 35 years to life in prison after being convicted of his third house burglary, Scolnick said.
The incident Tuesday occurred just before noon in North Valley Superior Court before Judge Charles Peven, said Sgt. David Holm of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
After the jury read the verdict, Silvas jumped over the rail and ran to the back of the courtroom, where he was tackled by Deputy Peter Mulryan--a 20-year veteran--according to authorities. During a brief struggle, Silvas punched Mulryan twice in the face and burst out the door.
Mulryan chased Silvas into the hallway where he and three police officers who were waiting to testify in different cases pepper-sprayed and arrested Silvas.
Mulryan was taken to Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys where he was treated for a bloody nose and forehead bruise, Holm said. Silvas was treated at the scene for the effects of pepper-spray, he said.
Back in the courtroom, Karl Russ, the public defender representing Silvas, asked Peven to declare a mistrial.
"The fact the incident took place in front of the jury completely eliminates its ability to decide the issue of truth or falsity of the [prior convictions]," Russ said.
His motion was denied.
Although a number of inmates have escaped in recent months from Sheriff's Department holding facilities--often because of paperwork foul-ups--Tuesday's incident was the only attempted escape from a courthouse since 1995, Sheriff's Lt. Ed Dvork said.
In addition to the pending sentence for burglary, Silvas now also faces charges of assault on a peace officer and escape, Holm said.