A sentencing hearing for Darrell Brooks, the man convicted of murdering six people after driving his SUV through a Christmas parade in Wisconsin, was briefly suspended Tuesday due to a threat made on the Waukesha courthouse, the judge said.
Brooks was also briefly removed from the courtroom due to what Judge Jennifer Dorow described as his “defiant behavior” during the proceedings.
Dozens of survivors of last year’s attack in Waukesha are planning to address Brooks during the two-day sentencing hearing, which started Tuesday morning.
About 90 minutes into the hearing, the court went into recess shortly before 10 a.m. local time after Dorow said she was advised by the sheriff “that their communication center had received a threat to the courthouse,” she told the court.
An unknown person “threatened a mass shooting” at the courthouse, according to Waukesha County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Nicholas Wenzel.
Court proceedings resumed over an hour later, around 11:15 a.m.
“The sheriff has assured me that this building is quite safe — ‘very secure,’ were his words — and that he has taken all reasonable measures to secure the courthouse this time,” she said.
Wenzel said they increased security at the courthouse and on the county grounds.
Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow said the sheriff’s office is investigating the credibility of “an anonymous threat” to the Waukesha County Courthouse. The FBI and Waukesha Police Department are assisting, Wenzel said.
“County offices are conducting business as usual,” Farrow said on Twitter. “If you are in the Courthouse, you may notice an increased presence of law enforcement personnel.”
Dorow apologized for the “abrupt disruption” to the victims’ statements.
“I am confident that we can go forward at this time,” she said.
‘Haunted’ by attack
Brooks, 40, was found guilty last month on all 76 counts, including six counts of first-degree intentional homicide, for barreling his SUV into a Christmas parade on Nov. 21, 2021. He dismissed his public defenders during the trial and went on to represent himself.
Prosecutors expect 45 people, including nine children, to make victim impact statements during the two-day sentencing hearing, ABC Milwaukee affiliate WISN reported.
Several survivors who addressed the courtroom Tuesday spoke of how Brooks robbed them of their sense of personal safety, trust and peace.
“Some days I get scared to leave my house, especially since the holidays are coming around,” Sasha Catalan, who was playing clarinet with her school’s marching band in the parade, told the court. “Sometimes I think of what-if situations since that day — that if I were to take the place of one of those people who have passed, if it would have had been better.”
“Although I am grateful to have received a chance to continue and to make something out of my life for the better, I get haunted by those thoughts,” she continued.
Another band member, who was identified as “Victim K” because they are a minor, said that they were likely saved by their instrument — a sousaphone — after getting run over by Brooks’ SUV.
“While my instrument may have helped to protect me, my life as I knew it was entirely destroyed by Brooks that evening,” the victim said in a statement read on their behalf, recalling how they were plagued by pain for weeks, has insomnia and suffers from panic attacks in public settings.
“The PTSD and hopelessness that I continue to suffer as a result of that November day continues to be an ongoing battle, warranting decades of therapy,” the victim stated, while asking for the maximum sentencing possible. “Mr. Brooke is sheer evil in its vilest form. He should never again know any sense of freedom.”
Several parents detailed the pain and injuries their children have suffered as a result of Brooks’ actions.
In a statement read on his behalf, Donald Tiegs said that before he was injured in the incident, his son, Erick, was aspiring to play baseball at an elite level.
“You took that away from him that November day,” he said in the statement, noting that Erick suffered a skull fracture, femur fracture, four broken ribs and partially collapsed lung, among other injuries.
“I hope you rot in hell, have a miserable existence in prison and that someone teaches you a true lesson in asking for forgiveness,” Tiegs said in his statement.
Chris Owens remembered his mother, Leanna “Lee” Owen, one of the Dancing Grannies in the parade who was killed, while addressing Brooks’ behavior during the victim statements.
“I hope as I read my statement, you continue to roll your eyes. I hope you continue to laugh and just show how bored and unmoved you are by all of this all of this, because I think that’s important,” he told the court. “It’s important for the world to see that evil can be a tangible, living, breathing thing.”
Several of those who spoke in court were children who recounted the horror and long-lasting impact of that day.
“I know that I lost a piece of myself that day, and I’m still trying to find it,” one young victim who was dancing in the parade when the attack occurred told the court.
Another dancer who was injured in the parade spoke of being scared of cars driving by at the school bus stop.
“It is getting closer and closer to Nov. 21 and I don’t think I’m ready for this day to come,” the 12-year-old victim told the court. “On this day each year, I and many others will think of how a peaceful event that has been a tradition in Waukesha for over 50 years, and brought smiles and laughter to everyone, turned into tragedy.”
Brooks briefly removed for ‘defiant behavior’
Following a statement from Michael Carlson, whose sister Tamara Durand was killed in the attack, Brooks repeatedly attempted to address the court. Dorow asked him to put his concerns in writing and warned him that he would be removed if he continued to interrupt.
“Come on with it, ’cause that’s what you’ve been waiting to do the whole time,” Brooks responded.
Dorow ultimately removed Brooks for what she described as his continued “defiant behavior.”
Brooks was attempting to address an issue with one of the victim’s fathers that had been already addressed by the court, Dorow said.
“All of that was put on the record and it’s not an issue this court frankly needs to address today,” she said. “It is, frankly, a blatant attempt by Mr. Brooks to be disruptive to take the focus off of what I think is some very emotionally charged victim statements here today.”
Brooks was moved to another courtroom with audio access to the proceedings. He shortly asked to be invited back, which Dorow allowed after he promised to not interrupt.
Brooks’ sentencing has been scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.