Outbursts and disruptions by the defendant in the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy delay jury selection

Defendant Darrell Brooks Jr. is representing himself at trial

Darrell Brooks Jr. sits alone in court after a judge granted his request to represent himself
Darrell Brooks Jr. sits alone in court after a judge granted his request to represent himself on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Zoom

The first day of the Waukesha Christmas Parade tragedy trial got off to a tumultuous start when defendant Darrell Brooks Jr. was removed from the courtroom several times after repeatedly interrupting the judge.

Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Dorow called more than 10 breaks Monday because of Brooks’ outbursts and disruptions, which included him repeatedly asking Dorow to say her name. He also questioned the jurisdiction of the court multiple times after asking Dorow to adjourn the case.

That led to jury selection, which was supposed to begin early Monday morning at the Waukesha County Courthouse, being delayed by more than six hours. As of 4 p.m., potential jurors were still being questioned in court.

Stay informed on the latest news

Sign up for WPR’s email newsletter.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Brooks is representing himself at the trial. Accused of purposefully driving through the Waukesha Christmas Parade last year, he’s facing six counts of first-degree intentional homicide and dozens of other felonies.

Last week, Dorow ruled Brooks, 40, could act as his own lawyer after he waived his right to an attorney. She allowed his two public defenders to withdraw from the case. During those hearings, Brooks said he wanted to represent himself as a “sovereign citizen.”

“Sovereign citizens believe they are not under the jurisdiction of the federal government and consider themselves exempt from U.S. law,” according to an article from the Southern Poverty Law Center.

When the trial opened Monday morning, Brooks repeatedly interrupted Dorow before the first prospective jurors were brought into the courtroom. Within seven minutes, Dorow called a recess and sent Brooks back to his holding cell.

“I cannot tolerate that, and I won’t tolerate that,” Dorow said to Brooks.

“I want to honor your right to self representation, but it is not absolute,” she added.

The judge said if Brooks continues to be disruptive, she could appoint another attorney to the case. After that recess ended and Brooks returned to the courtroom, the potential jurors were brought in for jury selection questions. Brooks continued to question the judge, and said he didn’t consent to the potential jurors coming in.

“I am still unclear on what your name is your honor,” Brooks said, adding that he believed Dorow was “biased” against him.

Waukesha County District Attorney Sue Opper requested Dorow consider a precedent set by a case called Illinois v. Allen because of Brooks’ outbursts.

According to Justia.com, the defendant in that case was “removed from the courtroom for repeated disruptive behavior and the use of vile and abusive language directed at the trial judge, notwithstanding the judge’s prior warning that removal would follow another outburst.”

That case found that a defendant “can lose his right to be present at trial if, following the judge’s warning that he will be removed if his disruptive behavior continues, he nevertheless insists on conducting himself in such a disruptive manner that his trial cannot proceed if he remains in the courtroom.”

Brooks was then moved to another courtroom. He was later allowed to appear via video, questioning Waukesha County Jail Administrator Angela Wollenhaupt. The jail administrator testified about the timeline of when Brooks received discovery documents.

Dorow attempted again to bring Brooks back into the courtroom. But after continued interruptions, the judge said Brooks would need to continue to be held in an adjacent courtroom. She said she believed Brooks could still be present and participate during the proceedings, even if he was in another room.

Brooks was animated while he was in the adjacent courtroom, often waving his hands at the video. He also appeared to be speaking to the camera while he was muted, and he placed his head on the table for several minutes while Dorow questioned the potential jurors.

Jury selection will likely go into the night Monday and could stretch into a second day.

Brooks is facing 77 charges, including the six homicide charges. He is also charged with six counts of hit-and-run involving death, and five-dozen counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety with use of a dangerous weapon. The homicide charges carry a mandatory life sentence upon conviction.

More Wisconsin Perspectives. Give now.

Trustworthy news, world-class music and Wisconsin stories … made possible by people like you.