By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
ST. JOSEPH — The Berrien County jail inmate who shot and killed two Berrien County court officers Monday was handcuffed when he wrestled a gun away from a sheriff’s deputy and started shooting.
“Investigators determined this inmate was handcuffed in the front. He remained handcuffed. The handcuffs were still on him at the end,” Undersheriff Chuck Heit said.
Two court bailiffs rushed to help when gunshots rang out, and one of them shot and killed the shooter.
Police originally said they were not sure whether the inmate was cuffed while being moved from a holding cell to a courtroom. A fight ensued in a hallway and Larry Darnell Gordon, 44, of Coloma took Berrien County Sheriff’s Deputy James Atterberry Jr.’s gun, shot and injured Atterberry and shot and killed Ronald Kienzle, a court bailiff; and Joseph Zangaro, who was head of courthouse security.
Heit said it is standard practice to put inmates in handcuffs when they are moved from holding cells to court. Whether the inmate is shackled at the feet depends on the individual person, the charges they face and their temperament, if known.
Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey said Monday that Gordon had been in the Berrien County jail and deputies and court officers had no indication he would become violent toward them. Still, he was handcuffed.
Inmates facing a judge for hearings or sentencing remain handcuffed in the courtroom. At trial, inmates wear civilian clothes and handcuffs are removed once the inmate is seated at the defense table, before jurors are brought in, so as not to prejudice the jury.
Officials said Gordon faced a host of charges stemming from his arrest in April. State police records show Gordon was charged with criminal sexual conduct, assault with a dangerous weapon and kidnapping.
The Coloma Township Police Department was behind Gordon’s arrest in April and officials are in the process of submitting a report.
Coloma Township Police Chief Jason Roe said investigating officers are conducting follow-up interviews, but confirmed there are about 20 counts against Gordon.
Roe said Gordon allegedly faced six counts of criminal sexual conduct, one count kidnapping, one count of unlawful imprisonment, one count of delivery/manufacturing of meth, two counts of assault by strangulation, two counts of resisting and obstructing police, one count of possession of marijuana, one count of malicious destruction of property of less than $200, three counts of child sexual abuse material, two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon and one count of aggravated domestic violence.
Roe said the charges stemmed from separate incidents that took place over the course of a few months at three different locations. Roe said the majority of Gordon’s charges occurred at his Coloma residence.
Other incidents took place in Benton and Hagar townships, Roe said.
“There were just over 10 charges in the beginning, but throughout the investigation we added several more charges and counts,” Roe said. “Domestic violence was added, there were additional multiple counts and each one of those had an additional charge.”
Roe said Gordon’s alleged kidnapping did not involve a family member.
“We are working on a releasable version (of our report),” Roe said. “The report is more than 80 pages, so we’re looking over it and will get it out as soon as we can.”
Life maximum sentences
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic said the criminal sexual conduct and kidnapping charges were considered to be life maximum sentences. Assault with a dangerous weapon is a four-year maximum.
The inmate’s ex-wife, Jessica Gordon, said in an interview Monday night that Gordon was looking at more time than what the domestic violence charge on Monday’s court docket alluded to.
“He had court today (Monday), but the charges he was there for were dismissed,” Jessica Gordon said in reference to the domestic violence charge.
Sepic explained the additional charges Gordon faced can fluctuate based on the circumstances of the arrest.
“When an offense is a life maximum, a judge can sentence him to life or a term of years,” Sepic said. “Assault with a dangerous weapon simply indicates a weapon was involved in this series of events with this suspect.”
According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, Gordon pleaded guilty to fleeing a police officer in 1998. He was discharged from prison in 2002.
Gordon had a probation sentence after pleading guilty to larceny in a building in 2013. After serving a year in prison, Gordon was discharged early. Gordon also has a 1992 conviction in Calhoun County for misdemeanor disorderly person-jostling.