Florida judge pretends to resign on TV

August 4, 2004

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A Florida judge pretended to resign on live television Wednesday to end a standoff in which a gunman held a lawyer hostage and threatened to set off a bomb in a high rise, authorities said.

Duval County Judge Sharon Tanner, who authorities said had handled a case involving the gunman, gave the bogus resignation on camera as local stations were covering the hostage incident live. Her resignation was among the gunman's demands.

The lawyer, Christopher Hazelip, was freed unharmed and the gunman, identified as John Knight, 45, surrendered shortly after the judge's televised resignation, said John Bowen, chief of homeland security for the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.

Shortly before noon, Mayor John Peyton received a call at City Hall from a man who said he was holding a lawyer hostage at Riverplace Tower, a 28-storey downtown office building and had a bomb. Sheriff's officials later said the man had a loaded 9mm pistol but not a bomb.

While talking with the man, Peyton was able to contact the sheriff's office and officers evacuated the high rise. Peyton was able to keep the man on the telephone for about 45 minutes, while police converged on the building.

The gunman demanded the judge resign on live television within 90 minutes "or he would detonate his bomb," Bowen said.

The mayor said the man was not pleased with the outcome of a case he had before the judge. It was unclear what the case involved.

Tanner walked up to a TV reporter near the high rise, saying on camera she was resigning immediately without giving any explanation. Authorities didn't explain the meaning of her televised comments until after the incident ended. Tanner's office confirmed the ruse but said the judge had no further comment.

Knight told police he knew her resignation would not be accepted but he felt it was the best way to give his message that he was unhappy with her handling of his case.

"He knew she was not really going to resign," Bowen said.

Knight was being questioned Wednesday night at the sheriff's office and no formal charges had been filed, Bowen said. Police said Knight had no criminal record.

Hazelip, when called at his home, declined comment. Police said there have found no connection between Knight and the law firm and believe he chose it randomly.