Judge: Court will protect prison guards

One prison inmate has been sentenced to two more years in prison and a second inmate has received an additional 18 months after conviction for assaulting a prison guard.

No serving prisoner can assault a prison guard without receiving a substantial consecutive sentence, Mr. Justice Alex Henderson said. After hearing mitigation for one of the defendants, he stated ‘My primary concern is protection of prison officers.’

The defendants were Travis Ebanks, 25, and Leon George Clarke, 29. They were charged along with others following an incident at Northward Prison on 14 September 2004 – two days after Hurricane Ivan.

Crown Counsel Trevor Ward said the prison was running on emergency power at the time and the motive of each man was to escape.

Ebanks struck the guard with a piece of pipe. Clarke became involved; he and the guard circled each other and Clarke managed to pull they keys from the guard’s neck. The keys subsequently fell to the ground.

Shortly afterwards, Clarke was in another part of the compound and he demanded keys from another officer. That officer told him to sit down and Clarke did so. He did not engage in any other violence.

Ebanks pleaded guilty when arraigned in September 2005. Clarke pleaded not guilty and went to trial in January 2006. The court found that the two defendants were acting in an unlawful enterprise, Mr. Ward noted by way of background.

Sentencing had been postponed so that a report could be obtained on Ebanks. No report was available but this unrepresented defendant asked that sentencing proceed.

On behalf of Clarke, Attorney Nicholas Dixey submitted that the whole incident had taken place in the context of chaos, with up to 90 prisoners behaving in a disorderly manner in the centre of the prison. The days after the storm were filled with uncertainty; the prison was understaffed; there was near hysteria as to what the future held for everybody on the island, he said.

He urged the court to take a totality view – if not for this incident, Clarke would have been considered for parole in March 2006. His opportunity was now blemished.

This defendant had been on the periphery – he did not strike or kick the officer. He was attempting to get the keys, which were ultimately found on another prisoner.

Clarke acknowledged that the individuals who chose to come to work after the storm deserved not to be treated the way they were.

The maximum sentence, Mr. Dixey noted, is five years. He accepted it is an aggravating feature when public servants are assaulted and urged the court to say that 12 months would be appropriate given the nature of Clarke’s involvement.

Mr. Ward said that when a weapon is used on a public officer on duty, the aims of sentencing must be punishment of the offenders and deterrent to others.

Mr. Justice Henderson agreed that the assault took place when circumstances of the prison were somewhat dysfunctional. Prisoners planning to escape entered into a plan, which was carried out to some extent.

The officer was assaulted by Ebanks and suffered some injuries. Just after the assault Clarke joined in and managed to wrest the keys from the guard. He did not have possession of them for more than a few seconds before they dropped to the floor. There was no violence other than the forceful removal of the keys. Clarke took no further part, the judge noted.

Prison guards deserve and need the protection of the courts, he said. It is essential to good order in prison that prisoners be aware that sentences for assaults on guards will be consecutive and substantial.

Defendant Ebanks was entitled to the usual discount for a guilty plea, the judge continued. The facts indicated his offence to be in the medium range and the appropriate sentence would be three years. But one year was deducted for his guilty plea, for a sentence of two years consecutive to the term he is currently serving.

Clarke’s involvement was less, but there was no discount because there was no guilty plea. His involvement would be adequately punished by a sentence of 18 months consecutive to his current sentence, the judge said, with recommendation for deportation immediately after.