Cultural issues ruled out in prison attack sentencing

File image. © Andrew Bardwell

A judge has ruled out a reduction for “cultural factors” in sentencing gang members for a four-on-one stabbing attack in Christchurch Men’s Prison.

Christchurch District Court Judge Gary MacAskill said he set aside the Cultural Reports prepared before the sentencing “after considerable thought”.

He said offenders who had significant records of violence, who then carried out further violence against staff or other inmates while in prison, “are entitled to little or no credit for personal mitigating factors”.

Cultural reports can be ordered under Section 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002, which allows an offender to ask that the court be told of their family, whanāu, community and cultural background before sentencing.

The combined sentencing added a total of seven years eight months in extra prison time, either as cumulative sentences for inmates already serving time, or fresh sentences where the offenders’ existing sentences had expired.

Judge Gary MacAskill ordered the sentencing to be carried out one-by-one because of security concerns about behaviour by others at the court house in recent times. Two men rushed the dock in another gang appearance two weeks ago.

But the latest gang sentencing went ahead without any disruptions from the dock, or the public gallery. Plenty of Corrections staff, police court escort, and Court Safety Officers were on hand.

The four inmates were due to go on trial in July charged with wounding the man with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, but the trial never started. Instead, Sonny Clarke, 28, Michael Paul Thompson, 36, Dwayne Kararema Tutengaehe, 23, and Resham Toa Blake-Faatafa, 22, all admitted the reduced charge of assault with a weapon.

The Crown said the four were all in the Matai North exercise yard while the assault victim was helping Corrections staff to hand out packs of sandwiches to prisoners, through the bars to the exercise yard.

At 11.03am, Blake-Faatafa ran towards the yard’s security camera, jumped up and covered over the lens with a handful of wet toilet paper. This was 50 seconds before the attack began.

Thompson then grabbed the victim through the steel bars of the exercise yard. He held his left wrist and pulled him against the gate, where he could not get free.

Clarke and Tutengaehe then came up and stabbed the victim through the gate, using pieces of wire as weapons. They stabbed him repeatedly in the face, head, throat, chest, and hand.

The victim was eventually pulled free by a Corrections officer.

The victim received three puncture wounds to his face around his left eye and forehead, five puncture injuries to the back of his head, and one on the left side of his throat near his voice box.

He also received one puncture wound to the left side of his chest and one to the back of his right hand.

He needed three stitches when he was treated by the nurse at the prison.

Eighteen months was added to the nine-year five-month sentence that Blake-Faatafa is already serving. The court was told of his abusive family background. He eventually joined the Cripps gang which he saw as “more family than my real family”.

Defence counsel Bridget Ayrey argued that his involvement was only in obscuring the camera and he had never touched the weapons, but Judge MacAskill said his role had made the attack more likely and enabled the offenders to act more freely.

Clarke was also sentenced for a second prison assault involving a two-person attack on another inmate in an exercise yard. Defence counsel Paul McMenamin said Clarke had support from family, but needed rehabilitation. “Since he was a boy, he’s had no chance, really, so far,” Mr McMenamin said.

Judge McAskill noted he had 62 previous convictions, including violence. He had a difficult family background, involving gang activity and violence before going into many placements in State care. He was entrenched in gang life. His cultural report said he had been failed by his whanau and the State.

The judge jailed him for two years, and imposed release conditions for six months to follow that sentence for a psychological assessment, and to undertake counselling and programmes to deal with issues of alcohol, violence, and cultural matters.

Thompson – whose existing sentence for aggravated robbery expired in March – was jailed for

18 months with six months of special release conditions for counselling and programmes. He had a history of violence, dishonesty, and failure to comply with court orders, the judge noted. He grew up in a dangerous gang environment, but regarded himself as “better off” than children who grew up in State care. He had spent 13 years of his life in prison.

Tutengaehe was sentenced for a total of three prison assaults, one of which had a staff member as the victim. Defence counsel April Kelland said Tutengaehe had effectively been on remand on these charges since November 2016. He had been in prison since he was 17.

Judge MacAskill said Tutengaehe had been involved in crime since the age of nine, and had been entrenched in the Cripps gang since he was 14. The judge imposed a series of sentences totalling two years four months.