We've all ridden an elevator with a stranger. But for one woman in the Fulton County courthouse, a four-floor ride up was full of terror.
As the elevator got closer to the 8th floor of the courthouse on Tuesday morning, Atlanta attorney Michael Katz heard noise from the shaft growing louder, and thought it might be kids playing. But the door opened to something far worse.
“The door opened and there’s a guy on top of a woman,” said Katz. “Her files are all spread out on the ground and I saw that he also had a pair of scissors in his hand.”
An incident report says the woman told a deputy that the stranger had stepped onto the elevator behind her on the 4th floor. When the doors closed, he put her in a chokehold. She struggled and screamed, scrambling to push the elevator buttons to get help.
Katz, who has trained in Jiu-Jitsu for more than 20 years, was in the right place at the right time. The martial art which specializes in ground fighting and grappling was perfect for him to know how to pull back the man who was choking the woman on the floor, and place him in a chokehold of his own.
“I could see the fear in her eyes and I understand that,” he said, “but if you’re used to being on the ground, it’s not that bad.
“I had to do something. I wasn’t going to let her get hurt, and I wasn’t going to let it happen.”
The man talking to Katz on the 8th floor stuck his foot between the elevator doors as they started to close again. Then Katz, 61, hauled 41-year-old Ruben Washington off the legal assistant, put him in a hold, and held him as the woman crawled to safety off the elevator. Washington, however, tried to lash out at Katz--who kicked the scissors out of the way. Washington then punched a court staffer, Judicial Manager DeAndre Royals, who came to intervene and ordered Washington to stop.
The incident report says Royals, the man Washington hit in the jaw, kept Washington on his stomach with his hands behind him until a deputy arrived to handcuff and arrest him.
His motive remains a mystery.
“He never said a word,” says Katz.
The legal assistant in the district attorney’s office did not know her attacker.
“She was obviously very scared, she was really in distress. It was scary to see,” said Katz. “But, you know, you’ve got to react or else the door would have closed, and she would have gone down a few more floors and who knows what would have happened.”
Washington was denied bond during his first court appearance Wednesday, according to sheriff’s spokeswoman Tracy Flanagan. He is also charged with aggravated assault, simple battery, and obstructing an officer, jail records show.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that Washington was wanted for probation violation on a 2010 shoplifting charge, and is listed as a fugitive out of Virginia.
“I don’t care where you are, I think you always need to be aware of your surroundings. And even you get on the elevator by yourself you need to be aware whose there and you know it’s just what you have to do in this day in age. Regardless of where you are, you’re never really safe,” said Katz.
“I just felt really bad for her but I felt bad for him,” Katz said. “And know that sounds crazy, because he’s the perpetrator. But I could see that he is not all there.”