A disaster waiting to happen

Mike Allan in an undated photo with his beloved dog. Family Photo/James Turner/CBC

Mike Allan’s death this weekend was brutal and tragic.

It was also not his fault.

He didn’t know what he was up against.

It’s been an odd day, digging into the background of the woman accused of killing him in his home, and then stabbing an 18-year-old outside a convenience store just a few blocks from my home.

At times I found myself shaking my head at the weirdness of it all. Later still, as I write this, at the senselessness.

The murder suspect, 30-year-old Mary Ellen Thomas, is in the Remand Centre, locked away from the world.

As little as just a few days ago, she was not.

And I struggled to come to terms with why, until I realized the judge who let her out on bail a few weeks prior to her being suspected in Saturday’s  extreme violence didn’t have the information she needed to make a fully-informed decision.

On June 23, Judge Mary Curtis agreed to let Thomas out of custody on a number of strict conditions, including to not go near booze, obey a curfew; standard stuff.

Thomas was alleged to have met some guy from British Columbia on a chat line and had a few drinks with him at the Sandman Hotel on Sargent Avenue on the 20th.

Her lawyer said she became upset when he made some “inappropriate” comment about her.

“He certainly wasn’t acting like a Boy Scout that particular night,” the lawyer tells Curtis.

Thomas was alleged to have grabbed a shovel from the box in the back of the guy’s pickup and started slamming it against the vehicle, shattering the window.

Police are called and they pick her up.

The mother of one child is locked up for three days before she meets Curtis in a courtroom for a bail hearing. There was no publication ban on the evidence given.

Curtis expresses her displeasure at her alleged conduct:

“You don’t like [the person] … I mean you walk away, you don’t go out and bash their vehicle up.”

Curtis asks Thomas if alcohol has been a problem for her in the past.

“Not really,” she says. “I’ve just been like, using alcohol to like, block, like, problems out and stuff like that, I get lonely and the reach for that drink.

“But I know other stuff to do instead of drinking,” Thomas says. “I know I made that mistake already by busting a window and going with strangers for drinks. I have supports I can call on or go do other things, like go to a movie or the mall or something,” she adds.

Curtis notes that Thomas hasn’t seen the inside of a jail cell for about a year and a half, after she served a full 2.5 year sentence for robbery.

The judge notes the 25 breaches of court-orders on her record “plus all the robberies, the thefts, the break and enters, the prostitution charges, all of that stuff.”

“I’ve changed a lot,” Thomas says.

Curtis cuts her off. Stops her from saying more.

“I’m just saying — and I think probably you shouldn’t say too much because I don’t need to hear a lot of detail from you. This isn’t a sentencing, OK?,” the judge says.

“All I’m saying is, objectively, when I look at your record, the inclination is to say, ‘nothing’s changed.’ And you know that — you’ve lived your record,” she says.

“But, in this particular set of circumstances, I am going to authorize your release.”

Cue here: The ‘hang em high’ crowd that so commonly frequents the hateful comment forums of online news sites.

Here’s what Curtis didn’t know at the time she bailed out Thomas for doing nothing more than bashing in a window.

The Crown didn’t know either, but opposed her freedom anyway based on what prosecutors saw on paper. That’s their job, not the judge’s.

Thomas’s defence lawyer didn’t say anything about it, because that’s not his job to make his client look bad. Besides, he probably spent all of 30 minutes with her trying to put together some sort of bail plan that would make sense to the judge.

However, we turn now to the National Parole Board to help clarify what we’re dealing with here:

In 2006, Thomas was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and told she required medication to stave off hallucinations, hearing voices and paranoia.

“Your behaviour when you are not on your medication is unstable,” the board noted in a follow-up decision after it revoked her mandatory statutory release from prison based on the belief her risk in the public was unmanageable.

“You want to return to live with your mother. When living with your mother in 1999, you had an angry outburst and caused $25,000 damage to her apartment.

“Your mother believes that your cultural teachings see your hallucinations and voices as visions and gifts rather than an illness or a disease. She would rather see you learn to control “her gift” rather than take a variety of pills and drugs to subside it.

“Under the circumstances, it is unlikely that your mother would ensure that you take your medication to control your mental illness,” the board said.

Thomas’s abuse of substances, like crack cocaine, was also a pressing concern to the CSC and parole board.

“You present as expending a significant amount of energy managing the expression of anger.

“…Your behaviour at Regional Psychiatric Centre is rated as poor. You have been involved in altercations with other offenders. Two noted incidents where you have fought other offenders at RPC (one where you struck another offender in the head with a disc man) and you have a history of being aggressive or disrespectful toward staff.

“You have not completed any programming while incarcerated to reduce your risk of violence.”

And just to give you a flavour of that risk the board noted:

  • Nov. 28, 1996 – Thomas is convicted of assault for punching a woman in the face while trying to steal her purse.
  • June 7, 1999 – Thomas is convicted for mischief over $5,000 in connection to the apartment fracas at her mom’s. She was home alone and smashed the toilet, left the faucets running and tossed food around, telling police: “I was mad, I don’t like living at my mom’s.”
  • December 11, 2000 – conviction for assault with a weapon after slashing a man in the head with a broken beer bottle. The victim needed 22 stitches to close the wounds and is disfigured for the rest of his life.
  • Nov. 24, 2003 – assault – Thomas jumps into a car and demands money from the driver. When the driver takes off, she takes off after him and injures him with a paint roller.
  • July 17, 2004 – assault – after drinking with a guy, she gets into an argument with him and hit him with a telephone and a small coffee table. He required seven sutures to close his facial wounds.
  • May 20, 2006 – Thomas hails a cab and when the driver realized she had no money to pay he stopped the car. Refusing to budge, the driver goes to remove her from the cab but she locks the doors and took his cash and a house key. She then somehow punches him in the face and takes off.
  • May 28, 2006 – She’s getting a ride from a guy she was partying with. When he refused to take her where she wanted to go, she grabs a screwdriver and stabs him in the stomach and head. Luckily, he was only slightly injured.

So in at least last four incidents now in the last decade, Thomas has been suspected of a crime by police after drinking with a guy — and another gets sliced open with a vessel to drink alcohol out of.

In at least one, it’s been proven she gets irate about something and freaks out.

One gets seriously hurt; another slightly. Another allegedly gets his truck smashed and the other can no longer answer questions.

Police would probably claim it’s because Thomas killed him.

She is innocent until proven guilty in court.

But the point is that Judge Curtis didn’t know any of this and let her go based on the facts she had in front of her.

Allan didn’t have any information to go on.

I spoke again with Merv Forbister yesterday. He had gone to the home where his brother in law, Mike, was killed.

“I went there for closure,” he told me.

The house, as I noted yesterday, is a wreck. There’s blood everywhere.

He wanted to know if the suspect caused the damage.

I told him I didn’t know. All I really know is what the cops have said. Mike and a woman he had only just met got in a fight and she is claimed to have killed him, left the home and returned later when police arrived to check up on a call they got about a disturbance.

I found out today that police were one minute — a minute — away from arriving when they were pre-empted to a stabbing call at a 7-11.

They didn’t know that when they did pull up to Mike’s house, they’d find a suspect in two crimes there.

Forbister admitted that he and his wife — Mike’s sister — are angry at ‘the system’ for what happened.

And while they probably should be, there’s a lot that up until today, they couldn’t have known.

The information came too late, for everybody involved.

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