The homeless woman who assaulted a local freelance videographer with pepper spray last year has been sentenced to 18 months’ probation.
Christina Bentley, 40, pleaded guilty to two charges related to events near the homeless camp on Oct. 21 on Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford last year.
Bentley declined to plead guilty to the charges before today and was slated to stand trial. The trial was scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. this morning but she did not show up until approximately 11 a.m. and proceedings were then scheduled for 2 p.m.
The first charge was for threatening a former News reporter, Laura Rodgers, who was taking pictures of the camp for a story about a then-recent B.C. Supreme Court ruling regarding camping in public parks.
The second, and more serious charge, was for assaulting Kevin MacDonald, who was filming the camp later that same day. (MacDonald was filming for CTV News at the time but also regularly works with Abbotsford News.)
The Crown and defence made a joint submission, requesting a 12-month suspended sentence, with certain conditions, including a ban on possessing weapons and on contacting Rodgers or MacDonald.
But the judge opted for 18 months instead.
“In essence, I want this hanging over your head for a longer amount of time,” she said.
MacDonald said he accepted the ruling.
“Given the situation and who she is and everything else, it’s the court system. It’s what she’s going to get,” he said. “I was happy it was more than what the Crown was asking.”
Video taken by MacDonald was shown in court Friday afternoon. The video shows Bentley coming across the street towards MacDonald and yelling at him.
She can be heard yelling, “It’s against the law to take our pictures!” before using a device in her hand to spray toward the camera, which was on MacDonald’s shoulder at the time.
As Bentley walks back across the street towards the tents, MacDonald can be heard groaning.
“I’ve never felt pain like that before in my life,” he would say later that day. “It feels like your entire face is on fire.”
The Crown prosecutor in the case, Jim Barbour, told the judge MacDonald suffered significantly as a result of the attack.
Barbour said MacDonald suffered great pain a second time, when taking a shower later that day and the spray trickled to lower parts of his body.
At this point in the proceedings, Barbour stopped and addressed Bentley, telling her to stop smiling.
Barbour appeared to think she was smiling or laughing at the story and told her MacDonald’s suffering was not a joke.
The judge also spoke to Bentley, saying her behaviour was inappropriate.
Bentley claimed that she was not smiling but was suffering from a toothache.
“There’s a difference between having a toothache and finding something amusing,” the judge said.
Later in the proceedings, after speaking with her some more, the judge acknowledged that Bentley had a certain demeanor that may initially seem like she wasn’t taking the issue seriously but wasn’t necessarily the case.
Bentley’s lawyer, Christopher Terepocki, told the judge that Bentley suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction and that she has never been convicted of a crime before today.
When asked by the judge, Bentley initially declined to directly address MacDonald, who was in the courtroom, but did eventually turn around to apologize to him.
“You were doing your job and I overreacted,” she told him.
MacDonald said he had no way of knowing if the apology was genuine but was glad to hear it.
“I was actually happy that she finally apologized to me because the day after she got out of court, she basically laughed in front of the cameras and thought it was funny, what she did.”