It's a good thing the only weapon used was a can of pepper spray.
A murder sentencing Tuesday turned into a fight in a Douglas County Courthouse elevator parked on the fifth floor. Which caused a Douglas County sheriff's deputy to unload a can of pepper spray in the elevator. Which caused the combatants to spill out of the elevator. Which caused a midmorning melee.
Out of the elevator, two of the men – apparently affiliated with opposite sides of the murder sentencing circled the rotunda, glaring at each other. The men then burst through a pack of deputies. One of the men cracked the other in the face.
Which caused sheriff's deputies to take down the men. One of the men – wearing a shirt that said “High as (expletive)” suffered a gruesome fracture of his lower leg as he was being taken down.
Which caused him to scream several vulgarities, including the idea that he was going to sue.
Which caused one big scene complete with courthouse regulars coughing and hacking and wheezing as the pepper spray floated through much of the building.
“You can almost taste it on the second floor,” said Liz Hazuka, an administrative assistant in the county attorney's office.
Attorneys could feel the tension building as Antonio McNichols was sentenced for the January 2012 love-triangle shooting death of Davarus Neelon, 26.
“You kind of had the feeling that something was brewing,” Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said. “You had the guy in the back (of court) wearing sunglasses. A lot of muttering going on, too.”
The murmurs increased as attorneys explained the sordid details of the case.
McNichols and Neelon had both been involved in a relationship with Kennetta Gunn. McNichols and Gunn had children together – and McNichols had been over at Gunn's house helping to take care of the children because Gunn was sick.
On that Friday, Neelon apparently wasn't expecting McNichols to be at Gunn's house. Neelon walked into the house to find McNichols' tying a child's shoe. Neelon jumped McNichols, Assistant Public Defender Kelly Steenbock said.
A brief fight ensued.
McNichols went out to his car and grabbed a handgun. He fired three shots into Neelon's car.
At that, Gunn and Neelon locked the door and tried to hold it shut.
McNichols broke the glass on the door and forced it open knocking Neelon to the ground, Kleine recounted.
As Neelon tried to scoot away on the floor, McNichols shot him in the midsection.
As Steenbock detailed the twisted dynamics that led to the tension between the men, several of Neelon's family members scoffed in court. One man sat in the back, shaking his head at several of the explanations.
Neelon's father, Byron Allen Sr., had seemed to calm tensions by explaining his heartache over his son's death.
“I loved him from the moment he opened his eyes until the day your actions closed them,” Allen said, reading from a statement. “I will pour my love for him into his children. I refuse to let you sentence me to a lifetime of heartache.”
He then turned to McNichols.
“For my Father to forgive me, I have to forgive you.”
Crying, he folded his paper and sat down.
Douglas County District Judge Timothy Burns announced the sentence 42 to 65 years in prison. Under state sentencing guidelines, McNichols would have to serve 25 years before he is eligible for parole. He'd serve at least 36 years before release.
McNichols tried to get up to leave the courtroom before the sentencing was over.
As he was led out, he glared at Neelon's family and friends. Allen rose out of his seat and stared back at him before quickly calming. One of Neelon's friends told McNichols to get his “expletive” to prison.
Allen was speaking with Kleine outside court when people started yelling. Deputies rushed to the elevators.
About seven people – mostly women were screaming at each other from inside and outside the east elevator. A fight ensued between two men. As punches flew, Deputy Gerald Kellogg tried to intervene. The fight continued.
Kellogg sprayed pepper spray.
Everyone spilled out. The murder victim's brother — authorities identified him as Derick Neelon — paced furiously as he glared and jawed at a man identified as Marvin Gunn, a relative of Kennetta Gunn, the woman in the middle of the love triangle.
The two men, both 26, took a collision course around the courthouse rotunda, their paths intersecting just outside a courtroom. Marvin Gunn burst between a group of deputies and socked Neelon in the face. Neelon appeared to swing back.
Deputies took both men to the ground. Neelon, 26, walked away in handcuffs, booked on suspicion of misdemeanor assault, disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer, said Sheriff's Capt. Wayne Hudson.
Gunn, his leg in a splint, was taken out on a stretcher and booked on the same charges, along with resisting arrest. Hudson said Gunn was scheduled to have surgery on his lower leg today.
Lawyers and litigants spilled out of court offices to watch the melee, only to inhale remnants of the pepper spray.
Amid the coughing and commotion, the man with the broken leg turned to a news reporter.
“I want that video, man,” he said. “I'm gonna sue their ...”
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