Drug dispute led to prison assault

An apparent dispute over drugs at Northward Prison led to an assault that resulted in six more months of custody for inmate Ryan Alijah Ebanks.

Ebanks pleaded guilty earlier this week to assault causing actual bodily harm to fellow inmate Jeffrey Barnes on the morning of July 8, 2013. In a letter addressed to the judge, Justice Michael Mettyear, Ebanks made it clear he was taking drugs in prison that day and the violence that occurred between him and Barnes was caused by a drug dispute between them.

The judge said he was not sure the letter helped Ebanks very much.

Crown counsel Scott Wainwright advised the court that Barnes had little memory of the incident. However, after Barnes was found on the ground outside his cell, a prison officer viewed CCTV for the area and identified Ebanks as being the person who attacked Barnes.

The CCTV was played in court.

Defense attorney Martha Rankine pointed out that the assault was spontaneous, no weapon was involved, there was no evidence of premeditation and there was no permanent damage to the complainant. There was some evidence of provocation, she noted.

Most importantly, Ms. Rankine said, Barnes had written a letter stating quite clearly that he did not wish to pursue his complaint and that “there were issues between the parties, there was an altercation, the matter has been resolved.”

Ebanks was originally charged with causing grievous bodily harm, a more serious offense that attracts a lengthier sentence.

Mr. Wainwright explained that an examination of Barnes initially suggested that he had sustained a fracture to his left eye socket, “but it appears that it may very well be that was pre-existing.” The charge of causing actual bodily harm covered the injuries that could be proved – swelling and bruising to the face, especially the eye and nose area.

Justice Mettyear told Ebanks there might well have been some degree of provocation directed toward him. “But provocation is part of prison life and you have got to bear it and not resort to your own summary judgment of justice,” he said. “Prisons can be frightening, intimidating places. Violence has no place within prison walls.”

The judge accepted that all that could be proved was one punch, relatively minor injuries and some immediate lack of orientation. He said he regarded it as a serious aggravating feature that Ebanks committed this offense while he was a serving prisoner with a bad record of previous convictions.

At the time of the assault, Ebanks was serving a sentence of 15 years after being found guilty of robbing a West Bay grocery store of $522 in 2011 and possession of an imitation firearm at the time. The Court of Appeal later reduced that sentence to 10 years.