Crime spree highlights need for homeless hostel, says lawyer
A homeless ex-con who stole beer and ice cream during a series of break-ins, motivated in part by his attempts to find somewhere to sleep, was jailed for four years and two months on Monday.
The lack of a hostel or halfway house for former prisoners with nowhere to stay was highlighted as one of the reasons for Tommy Orlando Ebanks’s crime spree.
Defense attorney John Furniss, for Ebanks, argued that his client was caught in a vicious cycle of offending because he lacked work prospects and a place to stay, to get a shower or a meal.
Passing sentence for a succession of charges, including burglary, criminal trespass and criminal damage, Magistrate Valdis Foldats said there were no options “on the outside” for criminals like Ebanks and urged him to take advantage of the prison’s rehabilitation and work skills programs.
Ebanks had only been released from Northward prison for a matter of months when the offenses began, Summary Court heard on Monday.
First, he was caught on closed-circuit television cameras, shirtless and wearing a towel over his head, raiding the fridges at the Cobalt Coast dive resort bar, said crown counsel Laura Manson.
In that burglary, on Oct. 16 last year, he and an accomplice, said to be his cousin, took between 40 and 50 bottles of beer and caused around $5,000 worth of damage to the padlocked fridge, which was situated in the open bar area at the resort.
He was on bail for that offense when he was caught hiding under a table in a dormitory at the First Baptist Church on Crewe Road after a suspected break-in had been reported on Dec. 17.
On a separate occasion, Ebanks was found by a teacher in a classroom at the same church, where he had apparently spent the night. In a fourth break-in, Ebanks was caught on CCTV stealing clothes from Puritan dry-cleaners on Eastern Avenue after smashing a window to gain entry. No dates were given for those two offences.
In February this year, Ebanks was again arrested after breaking into Sister Janice Pre-School on Desmond Drive in George Town and stealing ice cream from the fridge. He was taken to hospital for treatment to injuries apparently sustained during the break-in, where he made an attempt to escape, but was quickly recaptured by a police officer.
With the exception of the Cobalt Coast raid, where Ebanks was said to have been influenced by his cousin, the bulk of his offenses were connected to his attempts to find a place to stay or to clothe himself, Mr. Furniss said.
“Mr. Ebanks’s record is really of breaking into places for a bed; on occasions, he has gone into places to get a shower,” Mr. Furniss said.
He said his client’s biggest problems were the lack of a job and a place to live. He was able to stay with his father at times, but this option was not always available.
Mr. Furniss said so long as there was no hostel for people like his client, there would always be issues.
“We have halfway houses in West Bay but they are not like a hostel where there is discipline, where the work is there and they have to be up in the morning and back at night. We are always going to have a problem with Tommy until there is somewhere for him to reside, where there is food and showers and there can be some arrangement to help him get work.
“Until that facility is available, I’m afraid this is going to be a recurring problem.”
Ebanks was sentenced to 28 months for the Cobalt Coast burglary, six months for the first break-in at the First Baptist Church, a further six months for the burglary at the dry cleaners, two additional months for the criminal trespass at the church, another six months for breaking into the pre-school and two additional months for attempting to escape police custody following that break-in.
The magistrate gave separate custodial sentences for other offenses, mostly relating to damage caused during the break-ins, but ordered they run concurrently, meaning he will serve no additional jail time.
The total sentence was four years and two months in prison.