A blast of pepper spray and a group of angry relatives cleared Columbia County's Superior Court for 30 minutes Thursday.
The melee that followed spilled onto the Appling courthouse lawn and sent three people to the county jail, including a pregnant 17-year-old Augusta woman.
"I've never seen such carrying on out around the courthouse. The patrol cars just kept coming and coming," said Gloria Crosby, the traffic bureau director of the Probate Court.
Verlon Wadley, 52; his sister Shalonna Wadley, 17; and Mr. Wadley's 18-year-old son, Verlon Wadley Jr., have each been charged with obstruction of a law enforcement officer. All are being held at the Columbia County Detention Center.
The fight began about 11:50 a.m. after a sentence-reduction hearing before Superior Court Judge Albert M. Pickett for Verlon Wadley, said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris.
Mr. Wadley was sentenced in August 1999 to 30 years in prison on two counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The charges stemmed from a May 1998 incident. Capt. Morris said the sentence was reduced to eight years.
About 20 of Mr. Wadley's relatives attended the hearing, and as he was being escorted from the courtroom his sister, who is nine months pregnant, hugged him.
Deputies tried to separate them, but they refused to let go of each other and became combative, Capt. Morris said. Deputies used pepper spray to separate the two, but the fumes quickly spread through the courtroom.
That forced everyone out of the building and onto the courthouse lawn. Outside, several people vomited and emergency workers arrived and began dousing people with water.
More deputies arrived, the Wadleys were arrested, and other family members were told to leave the area.
Reach Ashlee Griggs at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 109