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Teen gets reformative training for crimes including rhino pen trespass and frog killing

Teen gets reformative training for crimes including rhino pen trespass and frog killing

Ralph Wee arrives at the State Courts on Jul 12, 2021. (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: A teenager who performed a backflip in a rhino enclosure for a TikTok video and committed several other offences such as killing a frog and smoking cannabis was sentenced to a year's reformative training on Monday (Dec 20).

Ralph Wee Yi Kai, 19, was convicted last month of eight charges, mostly of mischief. These were for incidents including trespassing into the white rhino enclosure at the Singapore Zoo, killing a frog with a ball on a foosball table and smoking "weed" or cannabis in his bedroom.

Another six charges were considered in sentencing.

The prosecution had asked for a reformative training suitability report and strongly objected to the probation suitability report asked for by the defence.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Melissa Lee said Wee had reoffended while on bail, shown a "proclivity to crime", and was "beyond the control of his parents, which renders probation unsuitable".

Lawyer Shashi Nathan from Withers KhattarWong said Wee was going through a "severe emotional crisis" after a break-up with his girlfriend, who filmed the rhino incident.

The "huge amount of publicity" around the case also affected Wee and his family, said the lawyer, adding that Wee comes from "a good family" that can "look after him".

FOUND UNSUITABLE FOR PROBATION

On Monday, the court heard that Wee was found unsuitable for probation, but suitable for reformative training, a harsher punishment that detains younger offenders in a structured environment.

Ms Lee said Wee has demonstrated a proclivity to offending behaviour that "cannot be addressed within his current environment" and shows a "blatant disregard for rules" and for the authority of his caregivers.

His parents are unable to impose adequate control over Wee, who had run away previously and stayed with his friends over disagreements with his parents, said Ms Lee.

He also "refused to comply" with curfews, leading to more disagreements with his parents, and reformative training is best suited for him, said Ms Lee.

"While the relationship between the accused and his parents has seemingly improved, there are doubts in their ability to adequately supervise him," she said, adding that Wee has issues with a short temper and behaves "with rage when intoxicated".

His parents' attempts to control his drug and alcohol abuse have been "futile", with Wee finding other ways to obtain those substances.

Ms Lee cited an IMH report saying that Wee had to be admitted to IMH in early August because of the risk he posed to his parents, such that his family had to seek help from the police because of the abuse.

While Wee's mother stated that her son had complied with his parents' instructions after being released from remand in October, he persisted in reoffending while on bail.

"It would be unlikely that his family would be able to exercise the required control over him if he is sentenced to probation," said Ms Lee.

She highlighted multiple "risk factors" flagged in the reports, including that Wee turned to drug abuse as a means of coping with negative emotions. The probation report also highlighted that his parents tried to ask Wee to stay away from some friends who exerted negative peer influence on him, but Wee would defend these friends instead.

Wee also has a history of expulsion from different schools on different disciplinary grounds due to his "non-compliance", and he had to be home-schooled instead.

"The accused himself has testified that his remand experience was a wake-up call, and said he would be in a more miserable state than now had he not been arrested," said Ms Lee.

Defence lawyer Mr Nathan urged the court to consider that Wee had already been remanded for about three months. If probation was not an option, he urged the court to impose reformative training at level one intensity instead of level two as recommended.

"Your honour, Ralph is not a bad boy. He is a good boy. He's made mistakes, very bad mistakes, errors in judgement, but essentially we have a young man who is a good boy, he is willing to ... change."

He said it was unfortunate that Wee had to be remanded for this to hit home, "but it has hit home". 

Being in remand has been sobering for him, said Mr Nathan, and he now realises how lucky he is to have his family, who was in court to support him.

"I spent time with him ... there is a sense of maturity and understanding he did not have three months ago," said Mr Nathan.

"He's sorry for everything that's happened. He asked me to apologise on his behalf ... he wants a new start."

The judge said she had no doubt that Wee has his parents' support, and told Wee to take the 12 months in reformative training to show he can "do better", saying that his parents are "at their wits' end".

Wee committed the first series of offences in October 2020 after speaking to a friend about his problems in the wee hours of the night at Sixth Crescent. 

He damaged an information panel at a bus stop and also hit the side mirrors of a Mercedes-Benz car parked in that area. A taxi driver saw Wee standing in the middle of the road holding a beer bottle and called the police.

In December 2020, he went to the zoo with his then-girlfriend. He decided to jump into the rhino enclosure, with the intention of taking a video and posting it online.

He had seen a viral video of a man riding a giraffe and thought he could take a video that would also go viral.

His girlfriend filmed him doing a backflip in the enclosure, and Wee later uploaded the clip to his public TikTok account. It drew 55,000 views by the time the zoo called the police for fear others would follow suit.

On Christmas Eve in 2020, Wee went to a friend's house in Sentosa Cove for a gathering.

He brought along 17 frogs as a Christmas prank, and later shot a ball at one of the frogs on a foosball table, injuring the animal and killing it before cutting it up and throwing it away.

He was charged for these offences in July, but was arrested again in August on suspicion of drug offences. He later admitted consuming "weed" or cannabis in his bedroom, and was arrested again in an Institute of Mental Health (IMH) ward in September for failing to attend court. 

He had been admitted to IMH because he "posed a risk to his parents", the prosecutor said. Police found electronic cigarette pods among his belongings in the ward, resulting in a fresh charge.

He also failed to report for urine tests on four occasions despite being under compulsory supervision from Dec 16, 2020.

In October, he cut his e-tag after arguing with his father, who reminded him to sleep early as he had to report to the Central Narcotics Bureau early that morning.

His father called the police for help when he could not find his son, who had cycled to a friend's home.

In November, an arrest warrant was issued for Wee for the second time, after he failed to wake up to attend his court hearing. The court heard that his parents were unable to wake him up. 

He was arrested soon after and has been remanded since.

The penalties for criminal trespass, are a jail term of up to three months, a fine of up to S$1,500, or both. Mischief carries penalties of up to two years' jail, a fine, or both.

For causing unnecessary pain and suffering to an animal, he could have been jailed for up to 18 months, fined up to S$15,000, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(zl)

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