Monday, July 07, 2008

9 years & 18 strokes for a victimless crime

The story of Cpl Dave Teo is a very sad one. It is clear he needs help.

July 7, 2008
NSman Dave Teo's behavioural problems stem from disturbed upbringing

National Serviceman Dave Teo Ming was often caned by his mother when he was a young schoolboy and his father was in and out of jail for various offences.

His mother would beat him sometimes for no discernible reason or whenever she lost money on gambling.

And the beatings were no "normal beating'.

'The cane anyhow whack, whack until I got bruises,' he said in a psychiatric report submitted by the Institute of Mental Health, which was tendered in the High Court on Monday, when he was sentenced to nine years and two months, with 18 strokes of the cane for unlawful possession of a rifle, bullets and a knife.

The report presented a picture of his disturbed upbringing, scarred by constant beatings, rejection by his own mother who left him in the care of his paternal grandparents when he was in Primary one or two, after she walked out on him with his younger sister.

Teo's grandparents and aunt confirmed the beatings and remembered how traumatised Teo was as a child. They reported that his mother would even throw chairs at him.

After she left the family, the grandparents became the main caregivers to Teo and his brother who was two years younger.

Although he was not beaten as much, his paternal uncle, who lived with him, would punch and slap him if he misbehaved during his teens.

When he was 14, his younger brother was killed in a road accident.

This caused Teo 'to spiral downwards with disciplinary problems', said the IMH report. 'He was filled with anger and 'hated everybody''.

He became depressed and isolated himself from the family.

The behavioural problems and brushes with law continued, and he had to drop out of school at Secondary 3.

Possessive boyfriend

Teo started dating Ms Crystal Liew when he was 16. She was then 14. The relationship graduated to a sexual one when she turned 16.

By his own admission, Teo was a highly possessive boyfriend.

When she went out with her friends, he would feel extremely jealous and become abusive of her. He would call her up and demanded that she went home immediately.

There were times that he would hurl vulgarities at her and he also admitted that he had hit her several times, according to the IMH report.

In early 2007, Teo was posted for a short stint to Taiwan as part of his national service.

The couple continued to quarrel over the phone and in April last year, they broke up.

That was the final act and Teo snapped.

'He had nightmares about dying or being killed and in his waking hours, thought of suicide,' said the psychiatric report.

His sleep became disturbed, he lost weight over the next few months and he became withdrawn. His concentration became poor and 'his libido also dropped'.

In camp, he became easily irritated, and vented his anger by kicking the cupboard and being rude to his superiors.

He also began to hear voices of people who were not there.

Stalked ex-girlfriend

When he returned to Singapore from Taiwan, he started stalking Ms Liew, hanging out at her condominium and outside her school.

He even went absent without leave from camp to spend his nights at a stairwell at her condo. He was eventually caught and sent to the SAF detention barracks.

After he stopped contacts with Ms Liew, he went further downhill. He no longer cared about his appearance, became reclusive and started drinking to overcome his insomnia.

'He became self-destructive and recalls exercising till the point of exhaustion and then denying himself water,' said the report.

Dave stole a rifle along with 8 bullets and went AWOL. The law says unlawful possession of weapons, the prosecution asked for a deterrent sentence and got it - 9 years jail and 18 strokes of the rotan. This is the "help" he gets, and the judge has this to say...

July 7, 2008
'My heart hurts for you': Judge to NSman

JUSTICE Tay Yong Kwang explained to Awol National Serviceman Dave Teo Min why he would have to impose a deterrent sentence before jailing him for a total of nine years and two months, with 18 strokes of the cane, for having a rifle, eight bullets and a knife.

In a display of compassion, the High Court judge on Monday told the 20-year-old, who had earlier pleaded guilty to the three charges: 'My heart hurts for you that so young a man will have to spend some of the best years of his life in prison and have to undergo so many strokes of the cane, but I trust that you understand that a deterrent sentence is unavoidable in the circumstances.'

Justice Tay said Teo had committed a very grave offence by taking a rifle and ammunition out of camp for his 'own purposes' - 'especially so in this age of increased security concerns everywhere'.

Why is a deterrent sentence unavoidable? Where is the victim here? Is Mas Selemat more dangerous or a confused NSF? How about a "deterrent sentence" too for those responsible for Mas Selemat's escape? After all Mas is still at large and has the potential to cause some really serious damage and harm.

He told the NSman who sparked a 20-hour manhunt on Sept 2, 2007, when he walked out of Mandai Hill camp with an SAR-21 rifle and eight rounds of bullets, and was finally tracked down to a toilet in a shopping mall the following day: 'Dave, you have had a very hard life.'

'I hope that this unfortunate and traumatic wrong turn in your life will make you much more mature and a whole lot wiser and that you will spend the next few years reconstructing your young life.'

Dave has already spent a year in jail. How does throwing him into jail for another 9 years help reconstruct his life? Do we compound an UNFORTUNATE turn in his life with a further "unfortunate" 9 years in jail? Doesn't make sense leh... So unfortunate hor??

'I hope that you will pursue your studies, listen to good advice from counsellors and learn many skills while in prison and that, upon your release, you will have a life full of meaning and purpose to honour the memory of your grandmother and your beloved younger brother.'

'It has been written, 'To everything there is a season.' There was a time when you loved, there came a time when you hated. There was a time when you felt you wanted to kill, now is the time for you to heal.'

'There was a time you were broken down, now is the time to build yourself up. There was a time when you were at war in your being, now is the time to restore peace within.'

'In spite of your difficult childhood and in spite of what you have done, do not ever give up on yourself.'

The judge talks a lot hor? I think he wants to because he knows the sentence is overly harsh and unjust. Are his hands tied? Is he really talking to make himself feel better for compounding Dave Teo's sufferings?

And what is the purpose of a deterrent sentence other than to send out a symbolic message? And is such a message even effective when applied to young men who momentarily lost their head or caught in a moment of passion? Becos the real problem isn't Dave Teo, but it is how the rifle and bullets were so easily taken out of camp. Humans have passion, another troubled upbringing, another confused soul, then what? Another deterrent sentence? 20 yrs then?

The punishment here does not fit the crime or the harm caused. The only victim here is Dave Teo, and maybe SAF's fragile ego and some elites' faces. But this is SG, and for unfortunate people like Dave Teo who falls through the crack, the system punishes them instead of helping them.

.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

was shocked when I read what the judge said vs the sentence given. Doesn't seem to gel....sad for Dave. How does 18 strokes help Dave build himself up; or restore peace within? His hands might well be tied. But that's the problem in SG...too legalistic n not enough compassion!!

Anonymous said...

There is no life lost,why the 18 strokes.The court should be flexible and not just follow the book.Pity him,he is only 20 and future is bleak for him

Anonymous said...

Like the hangman will say "I will send you to a better place than this, God bless you" to the condemned criminal moments before he is hanged.

Anonymous said...

Like the hangman will say "I will send you to a better place than this, God bless you" to the condemned criminal moments before he is hanged. Maybe the caner will also repeat what the judge said before Dave is to be caned 18 strokes. Just part of the ritual.

Anonymous said...

This is very sad. This soldier needs psychiatric treatment and counselling. If he was given the medical treatment by SAF he would not committed this serious offence. The judge has no compassion at all, how could he said "My heart hurts for you" and yet he sentenced him to 9 years jail & 18 stokes of rotan. I hope he(the judge)sleeps well.

Anonymous said...

He pledges an oath of allegiance - under conscription. What choice do we Singaporeans have? He was unwell, but some one allowed him to continue to serve. Why were the Platoon commanders allowed to get away scot free? the doctors in SAF definitely need to hold some responsibilities too. I guess the sentencing is clear, it was the soldier fault, not mindef, not the PC, the sargeant, the medical doctors etc etc. God help the judge, his hands must be tied, like belinder....

Anonymous said...

AC

I find it hard to feel much sympathy for the chap. He created his own breakup with his own attitude, then went AWOL and stalk the girl. I don't think that there is anything wrong with him being sent to DB for his AWOL.

Then he stole a rifle with live ammunition and went AWOL again. There is a need for a deterrent sentence because bringing live weapons out of camp is a very severe offence. A mental case with a rifle in a shopping centre - we were lucky that he was caught before he go beserk and started shooting people.

While I have my own hate/dislikes about the SAF, this case is purely the soldier's fault - there is no cover-up, he was not being setup as a scapegoat. Dave sow the seeds, and now he is reaping his harvest.

Anonymous said...

As much as Teo is fault, those who are responsible for the safe keeping of weapons are equally if not more at fault. Here again we witness classic complacency at play.

The other problem is conscription, where the large majority of young men are forced to "serve" against their will. Not everyone can cope as well and there will always be "off" individuals like Teo who comes from broken families and desperate situations. Unwilling to serve, burdened with personal problems, no one to turn to, superiors and an organisation who may not listen and couldn't care less, this is when death wish takes root. At that age they may do stupid things even though they may well understand the consequences of their actions. So the fact that the rifle and live rounds can be so easily taken out is greater concern.

I agree a deterrent sentence does not help Teo. A shorter jail sentence or DB, say 3 years, is more appropriate. The 18 strokes are cruel and totally unnecessary.

Anonymous said...

AC

Dave was issued the rifle and rounds because he was on guard duty. He jumped out of a window to escape from camp. Can't blame the armskote man, can't blame the guard commander for that, can we?

I've been through NS same as everyone in my cohort. Most, if not all of us are unwilling. And I have seen and heard of a lot of cases of suffering too. Many of such cases are much more deserving for sympathy – for example, I personally know a chap who have his father die during his NS. He have to take up the burden of his family and do part time jobs during weekends to make do. If Dave cracked because of similar pressures then my heart would have went out to him.

Fall out with girl friend then go AWOL twice and steal weapon? I am sorry but I think that Dave needs to spend more time in DB to get some sense knocked into him.

Stealing gun is a major offence; repeated AWOL is another major offence. These are far more than sufficient ground to justify the application of a deterrent sentence.

interpreting sg said...

are we forgetting that Dave could be spending more than 9 years?

he was still a NSF when he was charged, and under the military law, he should be spending an additional 9 years in DB followed by the last month of NS liability before he can gets his pink ic.

Recruit Ong said...

AC: Stealing gun is a major offence; repeated AWOL is another major offence. These are far more than sufficient ground to justify the application of a deterrent sentence.

I find the judge did not explain clearly and go into the reasons for a deterrent sentence. He said 'My heart hurts for you .... but I trust that you understand that a deterrent sentence is unavoidable in the circumstances.'

If Ah Dave can understand the consequences of his actions, would he have done what he did in the first place?

My question remains: Why is a deterrent sentence unavoidable?

The judge later said Teo had committed a very grave offence by taking a rifle and ammunition out of camp for his 'own purposes' - 'especially so in this age of increased security concerns everywhere'.

In an age of security concern shouldn't those who are responsible for such security be more vigilant and have measures in place to prevent such security loopholes and incidents? E.g. Mas Selamat's escape, Teo's stealing rifles out of camp. No doubt the offenders must be punished, when caught, but what about those responsible for the system in place? Sounds to me like another systemic failure.

The other question is the effectiveness of deterrence which i shall post a bit about later..

Anonymous said...

AC

"If Ah Dave can understand the consequences of his actions, would he have done what he did in the first place?"

I think that it is quite far fetched to suggest that a 20 year old servicemen does not know that he will get into serious trouble for going AWOL or stealing a rifle.

There is no indication that Dave is of subnormal intelligence, right?

"My question remains: Why is a deterrent sentence unavoidable?"

This -> The judge later said Teo had committed a very grave offence by taking a rifle and ammunition out of camp for his 'own purposes' - 'especially so in this age of increased security concerns everywhere'.

"In an age of security concern shouldn't those who are responsible for such security be more vigilant..."

Examination of existing systems and procedures is one thing. The fate of Dave is another. No matter how systems are reviewed or changed, Dave still needs to pay the price for his actions.

Recruit Ong said...

AC: I think that it is quite far fetched to suggest that a 20 year old servicemen does not know that he will get into serious trouble for going AWOL or stealing a rifle.

There is no indication that Dave is of subnormal intelligence, right?


It is not far-fetched at all. Studies on the human brain, have indicated that the prefrontal cortex responsible for violence, self-restraint and personality disorders are not fully developed in humans until they reach their 20s.

of cos i never suggested that Dave is totally guilt free and need not face punishment.

The judge later said Teo had committed a very grave offence by taking a rifle and ammunition out of camp for his 'own purposes' - 'especially so in this age of increased security concerns everywhere'.

This is where i find the judge's reasoning flawed. A heightened security climate is not the responsibility of Dave. Dave is only responsible for his actions. Stealing a weapon during a time of heightened or lesser security is still just that, stealing a weapon, no more no less leh. As i have said in my main post, where is the victim and consequences of Dave's offence? Other than SG and SAF's poor reputation.

Examination of existing systems and procedures is one thing. The fate of Dave is another. No matter how systems are reviewed or changed, Dave still needs to pay the price for his actions.

Again I repeat my main post never suggest that Dave need not pay a price of his actions. My point is 9 yrs and 18 strokes is grossly excessive. I feel 3 yrs in DB shld suffice.


The next issue is that of deterrence. Studies have shown that deterrence sentence is ineffective at achieving its ultimate goal, i.e. discouraging the offender from future offence by instilling an understanding of the consequences. Many times offenders do not pause to consider the possible punishment for a crime they are about to commit, especially in the heat of the moment. In fact potential offenders are more likely to be deterred by the threat of being caught rather than the threat of punishment.

If the "compassionate" judge (he was made out to be in the press) wants to help Ah Dave, then obviously a deterrent sentence won't.

I feel that such a harsh sentence is meted out partly bcos Ah Dave is a nobody. So he is being made an example. Is that fair?

The boss of CK Tang is now being charged for his part in organ trading. Let us see if he gets a deterrent sentence or not.

Anonymous said...

AC

Studies on the human brain, have indicated that the prefrontal cortex responsible for violence, self-restraint and personality disorders are not fully developed in humans until they reach their 20s.

So based on the studies you quote, how should judges treat criminals who plea that they have not completely developed self-restraint yet? Does it mean that they are not fully liable, and that they must have lighter sentences?


This is where i find the judge's reasoning flawed. A heightened security climate is not the responsibility of Dave.

Grounds for passing deterrent sentences include aggravating factors and public interest. Dave's repeated AWOLs could be interpreted to contain aggravating factor, and a deterrent sentence against him will be in public interest by sending a strong that stealing weapons from army camps is an offence that is extremely serious.


My point is 9 yrs and 18 strokes is grossly excessive. I feel 3 yrs in DB shld suffice.

Personally I felt that 3 years would be far too light in view of the severity of stealing firearms which is compounded further that he repeatedly committed AWOL.


Studies have shown that deterrence sentence is ineffective at achieving its ultimate goal,

Whether deterrent sentences work or doesn't is largely academic as I mentioned earlier. Even if we overthrow this practice today, Dave will still be serving his sentence in Changi Prison.


I feel that such a harsh
sentence is meted out partly bcos Ah Dave is a nobody. So he is being made an example. Is that fair?

The boss of CK Tang is now being charged for his part in organ trading. Let us see if he gets a deterrent sentence or not.


As for whether the law is impartial, we just need to look at political cases in our courts.

Anonymous said...

Time to leave SG.
Now!
Here's how..

Anonymous said...

It's over four years since the guy was sentenced. Has there been any attempt to have his sentence reviewed? Surely he's already paid a high enough price for his offence. If he hasn't already been caned, that part of his sentence should be cancelled. If he has already suffered the agony of 18 strokes, they should satisfy the most reactionary members of society. He was a young guy when he did what he did. The balance of his mind was clearly disturbed. He needed medical help not punishment. If the court, as seems to be the case, was determined to award him a deterrent sentence, then eighteen strokes of the cane would surely have been enough without the lengthy term of imprisonment as well. If anybody is deterred from committing crime by a policy of severe sentencing, and that is debatable, to be lashed eighteen times with a rattan cane would surely be sufficient.

Anonymous said...

To flog a guy is inhuman .Ask any guy who's taken a caning. When it's a young kid like Dave, it's even worse. But jailing him for so long is a lot more inhuman.

If he's got to be caned,give it to him right away. Don't keep the kid waiting any longer.That's mental torture. Lash him and then let him go home.He won't offend again.

Anonymous said...

I feel ashamed that I live in a country where such things can happen to a person who is more a victim than culprit. We have a civil service staffed by people with no independence in decision making. People who are afraid that their decisions may affect their chances for promotion. I have prayed for Dave from day 1 and I will continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

Has the guy been caned yet? If so that along with the jail time he's already served should be enough.
If he hasn't been caned, it should be done right away. Keeping the guy waiting is cruel and inhuman mental torture. Then let him go. The kid's been punished enough.
Eighteen strokes is a very heavy punishment. Apart from the permanent scars across his buttocks, he'll be scarred for life mentally. Does a young man of his age deserve such a cruel punishment? I don't think so.

schizoprenia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

ROTAN HIM !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (count 18 exclamation marks)