Mentally ill woman ‘never hit a person’

12 month sentence to be reviewed in three months

A mentally ill woman charged in May with robbery was sentenced last Friday to 12 months’ imprisonment, but she will return to court in three months for review of her psychiatric and drug dependency condition. 

Debbie Hetta Ebanks-Allen, 39, previously pleaded guilty in Grand Court to stealing a slice of carrot cake from Café Del Sol in downtown George Town while wielding a machete. 

Ebanks-Allen was half naked during the robbery, wearing shorts and no top, the court heard. 

Justice Charles Quin dealt with the matter and after two hearings signed minutes of order, on which this report is based. 

Ebanks-Allen told the judge at the earlier hearing that when she has a weapon, “I might mash up a car, a house, a bicycle, but I never hit a person. I don’t hurt people.” 

She said former Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale and Justice Alexander Henderson had tried to help her in the past, but she did not avail of those opportunities because “I did not reach my bottom. Now I have reached my bottom. The cocaine is the root of the problem … I want to come out of the game.” 

She denied having a bipolar disorder, telling the court she had had a nervous breakdown. She said if she were sent to prison, she would sue social services and would not take the mental health medication. 

Defense attorney Fiona Robertson asked the court to consider an assisted outpatient treatment option – either in custody or in the community – rather than a sentence option. Such an option would involve care under psychiatrist Dr. Marc Lockhart.  

She explained that at the time of the robbery, Ebanks-Allen thought she might be pregnant and was in search of food.  

Shortly after the incident at Cafe Del Sol, Ebanks-Allen went with two machetes to Burger King on the waterfront and demanded a chicken sandwich. Police arrived shortly to arrest and disarm her.  

Ebanks-Allen appeared in the informal Mental Health Summary Court earlier last week for possession of an offensive weapon and causing fear or provocation of violence. 

Ms. Robertson lamented the lack of a suitable facility for people like Ebanks-Allen and pointed out that incarceration did not work for her. “It is, in fact, working against her when she is attacked in custody. She does not feel safe there. The problem is there is no proper treatment facility here.” 

Another inmate reportedly threw scalding water on Ebanks-Allen while she was in custody. 

Senior Crown Counsel Elisabeth Lees agreed that there is a chronic need for a treatment facility, but pointed out that a period of incarceration could be used to ensure that Ebanks-Allen takes her medication and is kept away from illegal drugs. 

The court was advised that Ebanks-Allen recently received a divorce settlement, which could provide funds for her to maintain herself.  

A relative of the defendant, Reginald Delapenha, said he was willing to help her with a job and accommodation. He said prison had not helped her in the past, but agreed it was not suitable for her to be released from custody at this time. 

The lack of an appropriate facility “is clearly a problem that the whole community has had for a while, but there is not a great priority placed on addressing this,” he said. “As much as you want to help as an individual, you can’t.” 

In passing sentence, Justice Quin noted Ebanks-Allen’s previous convictions, pointing out that this was her first for robbery. “It is not the robbery of the slice of carrot cake that concerns the court,” he said. “It is the use of the machete.” 

He referred to her outbursts in court as demonstrating a dire need for treatment before someone is seriously injured. “The defendant must receive intensive medical treatment for her mental health and dependency on cocaine, for her own health and safety,” he concluded. 

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