A 27-year old Houston has been sentenced to six months house arrest for assault, attempting to disarm a police officer and mischief under $5,000.
Mario Reutelsterz pleaded guilty on Jan. 24 to the three counts out of 10 original charges.
At his sentencing hearing March 13, Crown prosecutor Lisa Feinberg recounted the facts of the case.
On July 6, Reutelsterz, in a state of severe intoxication, broke into a woman’s house, assaulted her and trashed the place. She managed to escape and Reutelsterz followed her to her truck threatening to kill her and throwing knives.
She drove away and called 9/11.
When police arrived, the suspect ran from the house into his cabin on the property where officers could hear the man yelling. Shortly after they heard an explosion and saw smoke coming from the cabin.
“The suspect exited the cabin and after a brief struggle with police, managed to break free and run back toward the burning building,” RCMP stated.
Two officers managed to subdue and handcuff Reutelsterz, but found the fire had spread to the surrounding brush.
“As a result, the police and suspect were trapped between the structure fire and the surrounding brush fire,” RCMP said, adding police were forced to flee with the suspect through thick brush as the fire blocked the way out.
Police said a resident of Houston, who had heard the commotion, was able to help guide police and suspect safely out through some thick woods.
Reutelsterz spent the next six weeks in hospital, where he was assessed for mental illness. A psychiatrist diagnosed alcohol use disorder, but found no indication of mental illness.
Feinberg argued for a conditional sentence order (CSO) to include a 24-hour curfew and numerous other conditions. She cited aggravating circumstances of the impact on both the assault victim and the two officers, who, she said, were in fear for their lives.
However, the Crown acknowledged a number of mitigating circumstances including a brain injury Reutelsterz suffered when he was 19, which she said reduced his moral culpability.
The prosecutor also noted that even though the Crown had been opposed to bail, since being released on stringent restrictions, Reutelsterz has abided by his conditions including a 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew and refraining from alcohol use and had therefore proven he is capable of serving his time in the community.
Also mitigating were the guilty plea and limited criminal record.
Feinberg also asked for a year of probation on the same conditions minus the curfew.
Ian Lawson for the defence argued for probation only saying that his client’s Charter rights had been violated by overly harsh bail conditions. He said there was no basis for a curfew or requirement for treatment of mental illness contrary to a person’s presumption of innocence and right to reasonable bail.
Lawson criticized the justice system at large citing a Canadian Civil Liberties report that concluded the bail system has become “chaotic and unnecessarily risk-averse” and “disproportionately penalizes – and frequently criminalizes – poverty, addiction and mental illness.”
Madam Justice Wendy Baker questioned the defence seeking a Charter remedy saying it was appropriate for a bail review, but not a sentencing hearing.
Nevertheless, Lawson persisted, saying the point he was trying to make was that his client had already been punished by unfair and punitive bail conditions. He also cited a beating Reutelsterz had received in jail that aggravated his brain injury and that he was now in the process of having to rehabilitate again.
“I think this man has suffered enough,” Lawson said.
Feinberg countered that given the severity of the charges and impact on the victims, she could have been asking for a more severe penalty, but the Crown had opted for leniency. She said the house arrest element was intentionally punitive to satisfy the sentencing principle of denunciation and deterrence.
Reutelsterz himself made a statement to the Court telling the judge he had turned his life around, stopped using any substances, found faith, was pursuing his rehabilitation vigorously and looking forward to being reunited with his family out east.
He said he felt punishing him further would set back his progress.
In the end, Justice Baker sided with the prosecution saying she was satisfied the punitive element of the sentence was appropriate.
She did grant a defence request, however, that Reutelsterz be given a three-hour window every day to attend a gym and/or go swimming as part of his rehab. She also sided with the defence that a DNA order was unnecessary.
Following the sentencing the Crown stayed the remaining seven counts including arson to own property, willfully resisting arrest, three counts of uttering threats, breaking and entering into a dwelling house and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.
– With files from Flavio Nienow, Rod Link and Trevor Hewitt