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Man accused of brandishing machete-style knife at federal judge ordered held without bond

Leonard Delaney, 38, of Chicago, allegedly brandished this 14-inch "machete-style" knife at a federal judge outside the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on May 3, 2023. (U.S. District Court records/TNS)

A North Side man was ordered held without bond Friday on federal charges alleging he brandished a machete-like knife at one of two federal judges as they were walking into the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse last month.

No one was hurt in the incident, which allegedly ended when the judge alertly stuck his foot in the courthouse’s revolving door, blocking the suspect from entering, according to federal court records.

Leonard Delaney, 38, was charged in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court with assault of a federal judicial employee.

Prosecutors asked that he be held without bond because he is a danger to the community, while his lawyer, James Tunick, argued he be released pending trial.

While the complaint identifies the alleged victims in the case, Victim A and Victim B, only as “federal judicial employees,” three sources with knowledge of the investigation told the Tribune they are sitting district judges in the building.

Because of that, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago has recused itself from prosecuting the case, handing it to federal prosecutors from Milwaukee. The proceedings have been assigned to U.S. District Judge Brett Ludwig of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

At a detention hearing Friday at the Dirksen courthouse, Tunick stressed that Delaney was not accused of making any threatening statements to the judges, and he didn’t try to enter the courthouse.

“He knew he couldn’t enter the building with a knife,” Tunick said.

Ludwig, though, noted that security footage allegedly shows Leonard raising the machete to shoulder height.

At the defense table, Delaney, dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, raised his right arm as if to demonstrate what he did.

In ordering Delaney detained, Ludwig said the evidence “is more troubling than the defense suggests.”

“I don’t think any of the conditions I could impose would reasonably assure the safety of the community,” Ludwig said.

Both Tunick and Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Ladwig said Delaney has a history of mental health problems.

According to court records, Delaney was headed to the courthouse on May 3 to bring information on a civil lawsuit he’d filed over eviction proceedings initiated by the owners of his Uptown apartment building.

At about 1:45 p.m., the judges and a civilian were standing on the sidewalk outside the courthouse at 219 S. Dearborn St. having a conversation when Delaney approached the revolving doors a few feet away and stopped, the criminal complaint alleged.

Surveillance footage showed the first judge, a male, gesturing toward Delaney as if to let him go ahead of him, but Delaney didn’t move, according to the complaint. After the second judge, a female, went into the revolving doors, Delaney “pulled out a long knife and held it in his left hand,” the complaint stated.

“As he held the knife, Delaney was within a few feet of Victim A, who was then attempting to enter the revolving door,” the complaint stated. “Once inside the building, Victim A then used (his) foot to prevent the door from revolving further, so that Delaney could not enter the building.”

As the male judge alerted courthouse security that someone outside had a knife, Delaney could be seen on the surveillance video raising the weapon “to approximately his shoulder level for approximately two seconds before letting it drop back down to his side,” the complaint alleged.

Security officers approached Delaney and ordered him to drop the knife, which he did, according to the complaint. A photo of the weapon was included in the charges, which describe it as a “machete style knife” about 14 inches long.

The male judge told agents with the U.S. marshals service that he was returning to the courthouse from lunch when he noticed that Delaney “seemed agitated or disturbed,” according to the charges. When Delaney pulled out the knife, the judge said he was worried he might also have a gun, the complaint alleged.

The other judge, meanwhile, told investigators that Delaney was breathing heavily and seemed aggressive. She said that from her position inside the courthouse lobby, she saw Delaney pull the knife from his pants and “hold it at hip level” as he seemed to be trying to decide whether to go in the building, according to the complaint.

Three hours after the incident, Delaney gave a videotaped interview in which he admitted he’d come to the courthouse to provide additional information in his pro se civil litigation, according to the complaint.

When asked why he had pulled out the knife, Delaney said he “realized at the last minute that he had the knife on him and that he wanted to get rid of it,” the complaint stated.

Delaney could not say why he appeared on the video to have raised the knife. He said he didn’t know anyone who worked at the courthouse, including the two judges he encountered.

Meanwhile, court records show that Delaney’s lawsuit alleging a series of civil rights and other violations stemming from his eviction had been assigned to U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang.

Two days before the incident, Chang had ruled that the lawsuit lacked federal jurisdiction, records show. There is no indication in the court record that Delaney and Chang had interacted before the day he was arrested.


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