The recent case of 17-year-old Mark Baptiste, a Street character of Kingstown, has again highlighted the need for a facility here, professionally staffed, to house young offenders.
Though Chief Magistrate Rechanne Browne is of the view that Baptiste is a product of his environment, and cannot be totally blamed for his behavioural pattern, she had no alternative but to send him to prison on Tuesday for two offenses of damage to property, and breaching a Court order.
Baptiste was sentenced to one year and six months in prison for damaging a glass pane valued $828. 24, the property of Rudolph Baynes of Cane Garden, and 12 months for damaging a glass door valued $640, the property of Alex Thomas, Manager of Stoplight Restaurant at Paul’s Avenue.
Baptiste also had a 12-month prison sentence activated for breaching a previous court order to attend Marian House for one year.
The three sentences are to run consecutively which means that Baptiste will serve a total of one year and 30 months in prison.
Baptiste had pleaded guilty to the damage to property charges at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court on Monday, but Magistrate John Ballah transferred the matter to the Serious Offences Court for presentation of facts, and sentencing. He was unrepresented.
Baptiste’s cocaine journey
Responding to questions from the Chief Magistrate, after the facts were presented at the Serious Offenses Court on Tuesday, Baptiste said he attended the Lodge Village primary, and JP Eustace Secondary Schools, but dropped out of secondary school at Form 1. When asked why he stopped, he told the Magistrate, “I stop school because people harassing me and jumbying me.”
“Where is your mother and father”, the Chief Magistrate asked Baptiste, who replied, “My mother dead and my father in prison”.
When the Magistrate asked him, “How she died?” referring to the boy’s mother, Baptiste said, “Cocaine, the same ting I smoking.”
Baptiste said people had introduced him to cocaine, and he smoked it morning and night.
“You realized that cocaine is making you behave as you are behaving. It is mashing you up, and you could die from an overdose.” Browne told the youngster, but Baptiste’s reply was not clear.
The Magistrate also told him that snorting the drug could cause serious internal damage.
But Baptiste explained, “I don’t snort it, I does smoke it.”
When the Magistrate asked him whether he had anything to eat while in police custody, Baptiste answered in the affirmative, but could not recall when he had a proper meal prior to that.
Baptiste given an earlier chance
It was at this point that the Magistrate told the young man, who is known to roam the streets of Kingstown every day begging for money, “Clearly, you need some care.
“You are really a product of your environment. It has made you destructive, rude, non-compliant with lawful instructions.”
She continued, “Regrettably, your environment produced this. I don’t blame you for what you are doing. It’s your circumstances.”
In a disrespectful tone of voice, Baptiste responded, “How you could blame me, you can’t blame me.”
The Magistrate said that while Baptiste admitted that he committed the acts, it was clear that he had been led down a particular path.
But prosecutor Renrick Cato, in his recommendations for sentencing, told the Court that a former Magistrate had tried hard with Baptiste.
The Prosecutor said that the Magistrate had sent Baptiste to Marion House for one year, but Baptiste breached the order. He said Baptiste would run away from Marion House, find himself back in Paul’s Avenue, and keep doing the same thing over and over.
“He (Baptiste) has no respect for authority. Right in Court this morning he made use of indecent language,” Cato said.
The prosecutor pointed out that Baptiste is unemployed, and does not have the means to pay a fine. Cato suggested that the only applicable penalty was a prison sentence.
Observing Baptiste’s demeanour, the Magistrate asked him, “What you watching him (Cato) bad eye for, he is not your size. I see your demeanour.”
Baptiste had a number of previous convictions including one that earned him a curfew for one year with an alternative of six months in prison, but his conviction record was not up to date.
When the Magistrate reminded him of the order to go to Marion House for one year, or 12 months in prison, Baptiste said he could not remember.
In relation to the charge involving Rudolph Baynes, the facts, presented by Sergeant Atnel Ash showed that around 7:45 a.m., September 14, the complainant who is employed at L.G Sales Ltd in the Baynes building, Kingstown, as a supervisor, opened up the store and the storeroom for business. At about 3:45 p.m., he secured the business place, including the storeroom, ensuring that everything was intact, and left. Around 7:30 a.m. the following day, the complaint went back to work and discovered that the display glass for the storeroom was smashed. The matter was reported to the police, and investigations led to Baptiste’s apprehension.
In relation to the incident at Stoplight Restaurant, Paul’s Avenue, the Court heard that around 11:45 a.m. March 2, Alex Thomas, Manager of the business place, was at the Restaurant when he heard a loud noise coming from a seated area. After attending to customers, he went to see what was taking place and saw a struggle taking place between Baptiste and police officers. During the struggle, according the Thomas, the defendant pushed a police officer onto the glass door of the Restaurant causing it to shatter. The defendant was subdued, and taken into custody. He was cautioned and interviewed and admitted to the offense.
Applying the sentencing guidelines, and weighing the aggravating and mitigating factors, the Chief Magistrate found that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating for the offense, as well as the offender.
In relation to the offender, Browne noted that Baptiste had previous convictions, showed no remorse, and disrespected authority. She said the only mitigating factor in Baptiste’s favour was his youth.
Former Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett, now High Court Judge had repeatedly stressed, during his sentencing of young offenders, as a sitting Magistrate, that if there was somewhere other than prison to send them, he would send them there, but there was no other place to house them.