Judge commends autistic man’s remorse after assault on Vernon bus driver | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Judge commends autistic man’s remorse after assault on Vernon bus driver

Vernon Transit
February 27, 2020 - 6:00 PM

A Provincial Court Judge has given a Vernon man diagnosed with Asperger's Disease a conditional discharge after he pled guilty to assaulting a bus driver last summer.

At the Vernon courthouse Feb. 26, Judge Mark Takahashi said the 25-year-old “just snapped” when the attack happened and commended him for his remorse and insight following the assault.

The court heard how Austin Phillips had been vaping at the Vernon bus loop at 30 Ave and 31 Street Aug. 19, 2019. A bus driver got out of his bus and told Phillips he was not allowed to smoke in the area and move elsewhere. Phillips threatened the driver then attacked him.

“(Phillips) hit the bus driver on the side of the face and then began grappling with the driver and took him to the ground,” Crown counsel Margaret Cissell said. “He punched the bus driver in the ear.”

A woman nearby tried to intervene and calm Phillips down, however, this just aggravated him. An earlier RCMP media statement said Phillips spat at the woman although this detail was not given in court. Phillips was later charged with two counts of assault and two counts of uttering threats. He pled guilty to both assault charges in December 2019.

In a move favoured by both Crown and defence lawyers, Phillips changed his plea Feb. 26, dropping one of the charges of assault.

The court heard how Phillips was on the autism spectrum and had been diagnosed as a child. Phillips’ girlfriend and his support worker sat in the courtroom as the court heard how the 25-year-old had stopped taking his medication days before the assault and had no previous criminal record.

The court heard how Phillips was addicted to marijuana and used it to self medicate. Due to his autism, Phillips struggled socially and found it difficult to keep employment because of the social interactions involved in working. He had also been diagnosed with ADHD and an impulse disorder. Since the assault, Phillips has started to reduce his marijuana dependence.

Judge Takahashi quoted several times from a psychiatrist report during the sentencing saying Phillips felt “terrible” and “horrible” about his behaviour. The judge said it was “striking” that he’d never been involved in the criminal justice system before given the circumstances. Takahashi said Phillips showed “extreme remorse” and took steps to ensure this type of behaviour wouldn’t happen again.

"It’s not often you have such a straight forward account about what happened or whose fault it was, with a statement which shows he's gained insight into what happened,” the judge said.

The judge didn’t read out the full statement but said it was how “a person should apologize.”

Phillips was sentenced to a conditional discharge and 12 months probation, meaning he will not have a criminal record as long as he abides by his probation order.

One of those conditions is not to ride the city bus if it is being driven by the driver he assaulted.

Judge Takahashi asked if Phillips would recognize the driver he assaulted. Defence lawyer Courtenay Simmons said it Phillips can't really take the bus anymore anyway.

“I understand (buses) are driving by him no matter who’s driving the bus,” she told the court.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Ben Bulmer or call (250) 309-5230 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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