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Sheriff's department investigating why deputy handcuffed a court spokeswoman

January 26, 2010 |  6:01 pm

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has launched an internal affairs investigation into why a deputy acting as a bailiff detained and handcuffed a Superior Court spokeswoman today inside a downtown courtroom, officials said.

Vania Stuelp, a deputy public information officer, was handcuffed after she refused to leave the area usually occupied by attorneys and would not follow the deputy’s directions, said Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department. Stuelp was not arrested, Whitmore said.

Court was not in session at the time.

An inquiry is underway and is being supervised by the county’s Office of Independent Review. "It will answer questions such as why was she handcuffed in the first place," Whitmore said.

Court officials declined to comment on the matter.

The incident occurred shortly before 9 a.m. when Stuelp became concerned that a French television crew was violating court regulations that prohibit filming in certain areas of the court, Whitmore said.

Stuelp informed the crew they could not film in the courtroom and requested that they turn over the footage.

"She walked into the well area," Whitmore said.

A deputy district attorney objected to her presence, but Stuelp insisted she had the right to be there, he said. The prosecutor asked the deputy to deal with the issue.

The deputy then tried to remove everyone from the court to the hallway to resolve the matter, Whitmore said.

But Stuelp repeatedly refused to leave. The deputy then "put his hand on her arm to escort her out," Whitmore said.

At that point, she was "detained, handcuffed and sat down in the court," Whitmore said.

A sheriff's sergeant arrived and recognized her as the court spokesperson and directed that she be released, Whitmore said.

Later, Stuelp sought medical treatment, according to two different sources.

The incident occurred before an arraignment hearing for an attorney indicted for witness tampering. The attorney represents a key suspect in the high-profile 'bling ring' celebrity burglary case but was indicted in connection with another case.

-- Richard Winton