Public defender attacked in jail by Garberville man; Suspect currently awaiting trial for stabbing a deputy


Thadeus Greenson


With a newly appointed attorney, a 20-year-old Garberville man pleaded not guilty to felony assault Tuesday, five days after allegedly attacking his deputy public defender in the Humboldt County jail.

Jesse James Petty, who is being held in jail while waiting to stand trial on a charge of attempted murder on a peace officer, allegedly attacked his lawyer at about 10 a.m. the previous Thursday while the two were meeting in a private consultation room of the jail.

”They were in the attorney-client meeting room when, apparently, Mr. Petty got angry with his attorney, tried to choke him by pulling his tie and threw a table at him,” said Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Steve Knight, adding that Petty was shackled at the time of the altercation. “The attorney received some injuries. This was somebody who was trying to help him.”

The attorney’s injuries, Knight said, did not require immediate medical attention.

Sheriff’s Office Capt. Ed Wilkinson said the attorney was able to push the intercom button, generally used to indicate a consultation is over, and a correctional officer came to lead Petty back to his cell. Instead, Knight said, the officer found the attorney and client engaged in an altercation, with the attorney already restraining Petty.

In a brief court appearance Tuesday, a shackled Petty pleaded his innocence.

”I did not assault him,” Petty said. “I want to represent myself and take this straight to a jury trial.”

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson declined Petty’s request, indicating that he’d sought to represent himself in another matter and been unable to do so. Wilson appointed the Office of Alternate Conflict Counsel to represent him on the assault with force likely to inflict great bodily injury charge and said it’s likely that office will be asked to take up Petty’s other case as well.

Public Defender Kevin Robinson said he’s working with Wilkinson and the county risk management office to see what can be learned from the incident and how to best ensure his employees are protected.

”I’m very happy with the cooperation I’ve had,” Robinson said.

While surveillance cameras are sprinkled throughout the jail and monitored in a command center, Wilkinson said there are not cameras in the consultation cells, which he said are used for inmates to receive ministry services and meet with social workers, attorneys and probation officials.

Robinson said public defenders and their investigators are often in situations that can be confrontational but said it’s rare for incidents to rise to the point where criminal charges are filed.

Petty, who was on probation for resisting arrest and has a prior petty theft conviction, was in custody after being arrested Jan. 17 after deputies responded to a report of a man threatening people with a knife in Garberville. When deputies arrived, Petty allegedly led them on a chase, during which Petty reportedly threw numerous rocks at the pursuing officers. When Deputy Chad Zeck caught up with Petty, a fight ensued, according to the sheriff’s office. Petty allegedly stabbed Zeck with a knife just below the deputy’s bullet-resistant vest.

Zeck was treated at a local hospital and released the same day. Petty is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 19 for a preliminary hearing on the assault charge.

Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or

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