A radio commentator has offered to pay for the appeal of a magistrate’s decision to jail a teen despite concerns about his mental health.
“… if it’s a few thousand dollars, I will be happy to pay … to do that appeal to get him out of jail, please,” Stephen Joachim said on Boom FM last week.
“For a couple thousand EC dollars, I am very happy to try to help this young man out. Because this is a national disgrace in my view,” Joachim said.
Joachim said he would contribute the money necessary to have the Court of Appeal review the decision of Magistrate John Ballah to jail Oran Bute for seven months for the Sept. 3 non-violent home invasion.
Ballah rejected the Sept. 5 application by Bute’s lawyer, Jomo Thomas, to have the first-time offender evaluated by a mental health professional before passing sentence.
Thomas had told the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court that Bute comes from a family with a history of mental illness and has a number of relatives who are mentally ill.
However, Ballah said he had seen nothing suggesting mental illness one day earlier, when Bute, who was then unrepresented, was arraigned.
On Sept. 4, Bute pleaded guilty to a charge that on Sept. 3, he entered the dwelling house of Jeanne Dunbar, of Cane Garden, with intent to commit an offence, to wit theft.
According to the facts presented to the court, he did not steal anything nor was he aggressive to the occupants of the house when he was found inside.
Bute stayed at the home even after Dunbar threatened to shoot him and was there when her husband arrived seven minutes after she telephoned him.
The defendant was still at the house when police arrived sometime later and told them that he went to the house to ask Dunbar to allow him to live with her.
Bute told the court that the door was unlocked when he turned the knob and that he had gone to the house previously to deliver furniture from his father’s workshop.
Last week, Joachim, an accountant and commentator on Boom FM, said on the same station that he was “very disturbed that a young 18-year-old boy, who, on reading the article, clearly has mental health issues” was jailed.
“‘Clearly’ you said?” Thomas responded during the interaction that was part of his “Plain Talk” weekday commentary.
“Clearly,” Joachim said.
“Well, the magistrate said that he had had a chance to talk to him and he didn’t think there was any evidence of mental health issues,” Thomas said.
The lawyer said he has a very bright friend who is also a simple person — without any law degree or anything.
“… when I told him what the magistrate said, you know what the [man] instinctively responded? ‘How can he know that? He is not a medical doctor; he is not a psychiatrist’,” Thomas said.
Joachim said that on reading the news report on the case, his instinct told him that Bute has a mental health issue.
Thomas said that all he was trying to do was to get the court not to pass sentence on that day and to send Bute for an evaluation.
“I wasn’t saying he should walk free. I was saying send him for a psychiatric evaluation,” the lawyer said.
Joachim told listeners that the case “brings up so many things.
“How many psychiatrists we have in this country? A young man, an 18-year-old man who, from everything that was described in that article had no interest in harming anybody, he clearly had a mental health issue, he like this house, this is a nice-looking family.”
Responding to a question from Thomas, Joachim said that a person who comes to your house and asks if they could live with you does not sound like somebody who wants to harm you.
“No. That’s somebody who has some mental issues who needs to be dealt with and we put him in jail? What kind of judge does that?” Joachim said.
However, according to the facts presented in court, Dunbar heard a noise outside her bedroom sometime after her husband had left at 7:30 a.m. and thought it was her children, aged 6 and 8 years, coming to say good morning.
After the children did not enter her bedroom, Dunbar went outside to see what had caused the sound and saw Bute searching a medicine cabinet.
Dunbar said she ran downstairs and Bute came behind her. She told the court that she does not know Bute but knows his father and had never gone to their furniture shop, as the defendant claimed.
Speaking on radio, Thomas noted that Bute stayed at the house even after Dunbar threatened to shoot him but did not produce a gun.
The lawyer noted that the teen stayed at the house even after Dunbar called her husband.
“Clearly that is somebody with some mental health challenges,” Thomas said.
“And then you look at the family and you know there have been some issues.”
He spoke about Bute’s uncle, “Ben”, a deceased mentally ill man, who lived on the streets of Kingstown for years.
“… why are you sending him to jail…? We know what is going to happen to him in jail,” Joachim said of Bute.
“What is the point of that? … I have a 20-year-old son; we all have children. I happen to have a daughter who has had some challenges also,” he further stated.
“I don’t know you personally, Mr. Judge, but what you did there is clearly wrong and we have to do better in the future. We can’t be doing this to your people, particularly young men,” Joachim further noted even as he said he knows the magistrate cannot respond because of the judicial system.
Thomas explained what needed to be done so as to have Bute released from prison on bail, pending and appeal.
He noted that the Court of Appeal is scheduled to sit in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in January and if the teen stays in prison until then his sentence would almost be completed.
After Joachim made the offer, Thomas said he believed that one of Bute’s relatives who had initially contacted him (Thomas) might have contacted another lawyer “because he probably thought that my fees were — let me not talk about that”.
Thomas said he was told that an appeal had been lodged, adding that he would contact Bute’s relative and tell him about Joachim’s offer.
Joachim said: “We cannot be doing that to our young men. I don’t understand. Where is the humanity and the decency? What happened to St. Vincent?”
Joachim had also raised questions about the nation’s juvenile justice law.
Thomas said he did not want to make any adverse comments, adding:
“If I were to raise these issues, I’d prefer to raise them in front of judges at the High Court. I don’t want to get into the public domain. But I got to tell you, I was very disappointed in the way in which that decision was made. That’s the most I will say.”