Sentence must be consecutive to deter assaults on prison officers, magistrate says
An inmate who became vexed after guards searched his cell stabbed a female prison officer in the face with a pencil and struck her so hard with a broomstick that it broke, Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn heard this week.
Elmer Watler Wright, 19, was sentenced to an extra six months imprisonment on two charges of assault causing actual bodily harm and one charge of common assault following an incident at Her Majesty’s Prison at Northward on 15 May, 2012.
He had pleaded guilty last year, but then changed his plea to one of the charges and a trial date had to be set. On the day of trial, he restated his guilty plea, so sentencing was set for Wednesday.
Senior crown counsel Tanya Lobban told the court that a female officer and others had conducted a search of Wright’s cell and then went on to search the cell of another prisoner. The second prisoner became aggressive toward them and Wright joined in.
He stabbed at the female officer’s neck with a pencil, prompting another officer who saw what was happening to call “Look out!”, so that she was able to move, but the pencil caught her in the mouth.
Wright then picked up a broomstick and struck the same officer on the arm. He struck so hard that the broomstick broke, Ms Lobban said.
When a second officer stepped in to assist the woman, he also was struck with the broomstick.
The court was shown photographs of the injuries. The female officer had a puncture to her lip and bruising and abrasions to her left arm. The male officer had an abrasion and laceration to his left arm.
In passing sentence, the magistrate said the most aggravating feature was that the attack was on prison officers while Wright was lawfully incarcerated. A further aggravating feature was the use of the pencil and broomstick as weapons.
For an assault on a prison officer who is on duty, the sentence must be a deterrent, the magistrate declared; it must send a message that such behaviour will not be tolerated.
Prison officers carry out an important public duty and must be able to do so without fear of assault, she said, otherwise the entire prison system would be undermined.
The magistrate then explained her sentence. In all cases of an inmate assaulting an officer, with no aggravating features, the sentence after trial must be nine months consecutive to the sentence the inmate is serving. If it were not consecutive, there would be no consequence, she pointed out. When a weapon is involved, the starting point for sentencing will be 12 months.
In Wright’s case, however, she gave full credit for his guilty pleas. That one-third discount took the sentence back down to eight months.
She then considered Wright’s age, his troubled childhood, his post-traumatic stress disorder and the fact that he will not be eligible for parole for another three years. She noted that a probation officer had spoken to Wright and he had no interest in his future. He had been encouraged to pursue a vocational training programme in prison so that he could return to society as a contributing, law-abiding citizen.
Those additional factors reduced his sentence from eight months to six months, which is to be served consecutively to the sentence he received for robbery and firearm offences.
The second actual bodily harm sentence of six months is to run concurrently with the first; a term of three months for common assault is also concurrent, for the total extra time of six months.
Wright was also charged with insulting the modesty of a woman, intending to cause alarm or distress, and damaging property – the male officer’s shirt – during the same incident. He had pleaded not guilty and these charges were left on file.