A repeat offender with special needs was sentenced last week, but only after the problems he faced were discussed by Magistrate Valdis Foldats and defense attorney John Furniss.
“His case cries out for some sort of residential halfway house … where he can stay in a safe and supportive environment,” the magistrate said of defendant Tommy Orlando Ebanks, 32.
Because Cayman does not have such a facility, Ebanks will be left to his own devices after being released from custody and “he doesn’t make the right choices,” the magistrate commented.
Mr. Furniss said he did not know what could be done with the resources available. Ebanks’s previous offending had largely been burglaries committed for food, clothing and, at least once, just to take shower.
The magistrate referred to a social inquiry report which indicated that Ebanks, left on his own, “goes for days without food or water, on the streets.” His home life had been chaotic and he now had no family support – he was essentially homeless, the report summarized.
The attorney suggested it was encouraging that the matters before the court that day did not involve burglary.
Senior Crown counsel Candia James provided details of ganja possession and assault charges, to which Ebanks had previously pleaded guilty. The assault took place at the Cayman Turtle Centre in West Bay on April 26. An employee said Ebanks had approached him and assaulted him: Ebanks knocked some bird food from his hand and then started to eat it. When the employee threatened to hit him, Ebanks ran off. The employee took photos of him as he ran.
The ganja offense occurred in 2016 when officers on patrol saw Ebanks walking near a West Bay Road resort around 1:30 a.m. He was stopped and asked if he had anything illegal on his person. He replied, “I may or may not.” A search revealed possession of 1.05 grams of ganja and a urine test was positive for consumption.
Ebanks had been coming to court to be monitored for the ganja offenses when he committed the assault.
He stopped showing up for his court dates, but was subsequently taken into custody.
Mr. Furniss said it was a difficult situation because Ebanks could not stay in custody much longer. “I don’t know what we can do with the resources available,” he admitted.
The magistrate referred again to the probation officer’s report, which said she had been trying to find Ebanks a place to reside, but landlords were aware of him and his limitations. He did not appear to have the life skills to function independently, the magistrate quoted. “He requires a long-term residential facility for dual diagnosis,” he said.
He praised Ebanks for his polite behavior while he had stayed away from drugs. He had cooperated with authorities and taken the psychological and psychiatric tests requested. “Drugs don’t help you, the way your brain is wired,” the magistrate told Ebanks.
He imposed sentences of four months for the ganja charges, with four months consecutive for the assault. He suggested that during his remaining time in custody, Ebanks contact the halfway house for recovering addicts. “Maybe they will have a place there,” he said.
The magistrate and Mr. Furniss had discussed Ebanks’s situation in 2013, when he was sentenced to 50 months for five burglaries. With the exception of one at a tourist facility, where Ebanks was said to have been influenced by a cousin, the bulk of his offenses were connected to his attempts to find a place to stay or to clothe himself, Mr. Furniss said.
He said his client’s biggest problems were the lack of a job and a place to live. He told the court that so long as there was no hostel for people like his client, there would always be issues.
In passing sentence, the magistrate told Ebanks there were no options “on the outside,” so he urged him to take advantage of the prison’s rehabilitation and work skills programs.
The offense for which Ebanks was sentenced in 2013 occurred within a few months after he was released from prison after being sentenced in 2010. By that time, at age 24, he had 41 previous convictions and was appearing before the court for two burglaries and an assault on a police officer.
Mr. Furniss told then-Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale that Ebanks’s offenses, as in the past, had involved entering a premises for shelter or for stealing food and clothing.
The chief magistrate said she would have liked to have been able to sentence Ebanks to a halfway house or bail hostel, or someplace with proper supervision, so that he could work during the day and return at night for a meal, a shower and a bed. With no such facility available, she sentenced him to four years’ imprisonment.
When the sentence was appealed to the Grand Court, then-Justice Alexander Henderson observed that any jurisdiction could pass a law that would provide for alternative sentences. “The only question, really, is whether they’re going to put up the money to provide the resources to make it effective,” he added.