Defendant attacks prosecutor during Rockland bail hearing

This story was published on April 08, 2003 on Page B1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

ROCKLAND – A shackled defendant who wanted a change in his bail conditions charged a prosecutor during a hearing late last week, knocking the assistant district attorney into a courtroom railing, authorities said Monday.

On Feb. 26, the same defendant, Steven E. Clarke, 38, of Rockland, fled a second-floor holding cell at the Knox County Courthouse with his legs shackled and wearing a bright yellow jail suit. He had been in court on a domestic assault charge.

Clarke was found at a North Main Street home two days later.

Clarke was back in court Friday for a hearing to change his bail conditions to allow contact with his girlfriend.

After Justice S. Kirk Studstrup denied the motion, Clarke lunged at Assistant District Attorney Christopher Fernald, pushing him into the railing, according to Knox County sheriff’s Chief Deputy Todd Butler.

Fernald was not seriously injured, but suffered some pain, District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said.

After Clarke charged the prosecutor, he was wrestled to the floor by Sgt. James Merrifield, a corrections officer. Clarke then made a comment to the effect that he didn’t realize what he had just done, Butler said.

Clarke was taken by ambulance to Penobscot Bay Medical Center in Rockport after the courtroom incident for “seizure-type symptoms,” Butler said. Clarke was treated and returned to the jail.

Rushlau intends to refer the case to the state Attorney General’s Office for possible charges because two of his assistant district attorneys were involved, he said. Assistant District Attorney Carrie Califano witnessed the incident.

Clarke’s February escape occurred when the officer watching over the second-floor holding cell near the Superior Court room was reading, sheriff’s officials have said.

According to Maj. Richard Robbins, the jail administrator, the holding cell door was left unlocked while Clarke’s attorney met with him. When the lawyer left, one transport guard had gone to the men’s room, while the other had stayed behind reading.

Clarke had been taken to Superior Court that day for a bail hearing. His bail for a Jan. 28 arrest – for assault, terrorizing, criminal trespass and a violation of conditions of release stemming from a domestic dispute – was $75,000 surety.

After Friday’s incident, Clarke is being held without bail.

In March, a grand jury indicted Clarke for escape in connection with the Feb. 26 escape.

Clarke continues to be classified as a maximum-security inmate at the jail and is being monitored by medical staff, Butler said.