The shocking attack on a Las Vegas judge this week has left many wondering – why? What would drive someone to assault a judge in open court?
On Wednesday morning, Judge Mary Kay Holthus was preparing to sentence 30-year-old Deobra Redden on a felony battery charge in her Las Vegas courtroom. But as she denied his request for probation and moved to impose prison time, Redden snapped. Video shows Redden leaping over the defense table and sprinting toward the judge. He vaults over the bench and grabs Judge Holthus’ hair, knocking her backward before court officers wrestle him away.
The violent assault lasted just seconds but left Holthus with minor injuries and a courtroom marshal hospitalized. Redden now faces over a dozen new charges including battery and assault.
This brazen attack has shocked court officials and legal experts, who say assaults on judges in the courtroom are extremely rare. Most threats and violence against judges occur outside the courthouse.
Redden has an extensive criminal history, including 3 prior felonies and 9 misdemeanors according to court records. He was before Judge Holthus to be sentenced on a new felony battery charge.
Reports indicate that Redden had worked out a plea deal with prosecutors that would have allowed him to avoid prison. But Judge Holthus rejected the deal, refusing to show him further leniency. When she denied his request for probation and proceeded to sentencing instead, Redden attacked.
Despite his criminal record, Redden was not shackled or handcuffed during the hearing. Some experts say the lack of restraints may embolden such an attack. Standard security protocols are now under review.
In 2021, there were over 4,500 threats and other potentially dangerous interactions toward judges, according to the U.S. Marshals Service, which protects federal judges, among other duties. Since 1979, four federal judges have been murdered.
“Family court judges are more prone to experience threats or violence mainly because they are dealing with highly emotional family matters such as child custody and claims of domestic violence,” says James T. Richardson, a professor of sociology and judicial studies at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“Being a judge is a very trying occupation, and it takes its toll on many judges,” Richardson continues.
For people who attack a judge, there can be additional charges. In Nevada, the penalty for contempt of court, for instance, is a maximum fine of $500 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 25 days, says Justin Iverson, research librarian and assistant professor at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
While Redden’s motives remain unknown, this assault has rattled court officials. But experts emphasize attacks in the courtroom are extremely rare, as most judges never face threats or violence. Additional security and screening measures may be prudent, but the justice system relies on faith that disputes can be resolved peacefully. This fundamental trust in the courts remains unshaken.