Fla. jail deputies reprimanded for slow response to lawyer's signals for help

The lawyer pressed a "duress button" and even banged on a glass window before two deputies finally came to let her out


By Eliot Kleinberg
The Palm Beach Post

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As her client made what she saw as intimidating advances on her in a small interview room at the Palm Beach County Jail, a public defender last month frantically pressed a "duress button" and even banged on a glass window before two deputies finally came to let her out, internal affairs records show. 

Deputies Shaquila Davis, hired in 2015, and Celestina Becerra, hired in 2002, each received written reprimands following Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigations that were closed out Aug. 23. 

Marcelle Morris (pictured) "started making sexual advances" toward his attorney, whose requests for assistance from jail deputies went unanswered for several minutes. (Photo/PBCJ)
Marcelle Morris (pictured) "started making sexual advances" toward his attorney, whose requests for assistance from jail deputies went unanswered for several minutes. (Photo/PBCJ)

According to the internal-affairs reports, Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Marshall was interviewing inmate Marcelle Sharif Morris, 27, on Aug. 6.

As she was ending the meeting, she told a PBSO supervisor, Morris "started making sexual advances toward her," including exposing his underwear. She said she did not know if he exposed himself fully because she was "repeatedly pressing the duress button to get help, to no avail." 

Marshall said she banged on the glass, but the two deputies in the jail's control room shouted to her that they were awaiting another deputy. When backup arrived, the deputies opened the room, the report said. It does not say how much time elapsed.

The sheriff’s office said interview rooms range from 10 feet square to 14 feet square.

Marshall did not want to comment, Public Defender Carey Haughwout said.

“This is really a super rare thing that happened,” Haughwout said. 

She said deputies have acted promptly in the past, and noted that in this case, her office did not file a complaint, but rather that “the sheriff’s office took the action themselves. They did recognize it was a problem.”

She said the discipline was appropriate for the deputies.

“They wanted backup. We had a lawyer that wanted assistance,” she said.

Jail records show Morris was booked July 31 and is housed in the mental-health unit. He was charged with armed car burglary with battery, armed burglary, armed robbery, possession of burglary tools and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Court records show a judge Aug. 24 found him incompetent to stand trial. 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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