Appellate Judges

No Bond for Threatening a Judge in Florida.

Judge Melissa Distler was the intended target of the vitriol every time, causing her distress and leaving her in fear for her safety.

He Stalked and Harassed a Judge. He’s Now in Jail Without Bond–on a Pair of Misdemeanors.

Originally posted: Dec. 7,  2020

Dedorius Varnes, the ex-sheriff’s deputy arrested on a felony aggravated stalking charge last summer, got a $25,000 bond.

Cody Mitchell, accused of aggravated stalking and violating an injunction, both felonies, got a $30,000 bond in July.

Cory Mace, facing a misdemeanor stalking and misdemeanor trespassing charge in June, got a $3,000 bond.

But when Darrell E. McDonough was arrested on Friday on a misdemeanor charge of stalking and a misdemeanor charge of harassing phone calls, he got booked at the Flagler County jail and is being held there on no bond by order of Circuit Judge Terence Perkins.

It is extremely unusual that a person facing misdemeanor charges be held without bond. An individual may be held without bond for aggravated stalking, a felony, according to the judicial circuit’s bail schedule, but that’s not what McDonough was charged with.

Seven years ago when McDonough himself was charged with a felony count of fleeing cops, his bond was set at $1,000–then lowered to nothing: a judge (the now-retired J. David Walsh) released him on his own recognizance. He remained out on no bond even after a jury found him guilty, and was eventually sentenced to probation, which was terminated early.

The difference this time? McDonough’s target was County Judge Melissa Distler.

According to his arrest affidavit, McDonough, 47, showed up at the Flagler County courthouse on Dec. 2, demanding to speak to Distler in person.

“When he was not allowed, he drove around the building pointing his fingers towards the direction of the courthouse making a ‘gun shape.’”

An incident report describes the scene more explicitly, with McDonough becoming “enraged, slamming the door as he exited the building while shouting obscenities.” He said he was “going out with a bang” while making the gun gesture with his hand as he drove around, according to the incident report.

The report notes that he complained that Distler had been unfair to him in a case–the case isn’t specified, and that he was “sick of life and ready to take my own,” a remark that would often trigger a Baker Act–the involuntary commitment in a psychiatric unit, for up to three days, of an individual who is threatening suicide.

Perkins requested that McDonough be trespassed and that his mental status be assessed by law enforcement, according to the incident report.

He then allegedly started calling court clerk staff using a “threatening tone,” and got through to the judge’s administrative assistant, who documented four calls on Dec. 2 and 3 and who described the calls as “hostile and angry in nature,” laced in profanity and pitched in screams.

Distler “was the intended target of the vitriol” every time, causing her distress and leaving her in fear for her safety. Judges are assigned protection–they’re accompanied by a sheriff’s deputy wherever they go, but only during work hours.

It’s not clear what McDonough may have against the judge.

A year and a half ago he was arrested on misdemeanor battery and trespassing after warning charges, both misdemeanors. He’d gotten into an argument with his mother over borrowing a car for the day. She’d told him he could borrow it, but for less time than he wanted. He screamed and yelled and broke a railing on the porch, then allegedly assaulted his mother’s companion, fought with him over a gun–and was shot in the arm, according to his arrest report.

His case being a misdemeanor, it was on Distler’s docket. He was never booked at the jail, and the charges were dropped. Yet that was the case he was complaining about, according to 911 notes.

Another, more minor case before Distler ended similarly almost two years ago, when McDonough was found to be driving without liability insurance. The second-degree misdemeanor charge was dropped.

Then came the alleged stalking and harassing calls.

On Dec. 4, several sheriff’s deputies’ units converged on McDonough’s residence at 61 Park Place in Bunnell, there to arrest him. It did not go well.

He was at the front of his house, “immediately became upset” at the sight of the cops, “and was refusing to drop a large wooden paint stick he was holding in his hand,” according to the report of his arrest. When he tried to run inside, deputies took him down. He was booked at the jail on Dec. 4 and has remained there since.

It appears that McDonough is not in full control of his capacities. Where he is expected to sign his booking sheet, the notation reads: “unable to sign.”

After the jury found McDonough guilty at his trial in April 2014 , the defense requested that he remain out on bond pending his sentencing. The prosecutor had no objection, but noted McDonough’s tendency to make things up.

“I’ll just say this,” Assistant State Attorney Joseph Warren told Walsh . “It’s disturbing how–you know, how he has spoke of the law enforcement officers and that, you know, the supposedly terrible things that they did to him. I believe none of that was really borne out by the evidence. You know, this idea that a 280-pound person is laying on top of him, you know, reaming him.”

But even then, when the judge asked about letting McDonough out on bond pending his sentencing, Warren said he had “no strong position either way.”

As it turned out, the defense agreed to his being sentenced immediately. He got three years’ drug-offender probation, which was terminated early. At the time, McDonough said he worked for his family, picking up limbs and cutting grass on an estate near Dead Lake. He told the judge he’d gotten trained as an EMT, and gone to “hair school,” sky diver training to be a sky diver instructor, and “probably have a Ph. d. in snowboarding, if there was such a thing.”

Given a chance to speak before his sentencing, McDonough disputed Warren’s claim that he’d made things up.

“It’s not my fault it looks bad what I said they did, okay.” he said. “But I’m not lying up there. They did everything.”

(During the arrest a deputy at one point had taken out his gun, and another had a Taser out before McDonough complied, according to testimony at his trial.)

He continued, “Everything I asked them not to do they did it. Okay. I don’t know why. I don’t know why they just wanted to just rough me, rough me up. There were six cops there,” among them Frank Barbagallo, who’d been working with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office for six months at that point, after five years with the Bunnell Police Department. Barbagallo was the arresting deputy that day in 2013.

On Dec. 2, after the initial incident at the courthouse involving McDonough, an extra watch was requested for Distler. One deputy was assigned to follow up with courthouse employees who witnessed McDonough’s behavior.

The deputy was Barbagallo.

No Bond for Threatening a Judge in Florida.
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